The Lost Leonardo
Directed by Andreas Koefoed
Featuring Georgina Adam, Evan Beard, Yves Bouvier, Alexandra Bregman, Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Antoine Harari, Martin Kemp, Robert King Wittman, Alexander Parish, Jerry Saltz, Robert Simon
Not since “Wall Street” has this critic been as fascinated by the world of money and the world of power, and the greed and, ultimately, the politics that it engenders.
“The Lost Leonardo” is the story of a supposed long-lost painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, the ‘Salvator Mundi.’ Koefoed gathers the art historians, curators, investigators both federally and internationally, the scholars who could possibly shed light on the mystery behind the long-lost Da Vinci.
At its center is an attempt to confirm its authenticity. The documentary alludes to points in history who might have purchased it in the past and yet, it lands in the hands of an art collector in New York for a mere $1100. Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a restoration expert is consulted on its initial condition and begins the work on drafting the work’s provenance. Questions from this original attempt linger and no one worth their salt is willing to commit to it, even though the consensus generated by the National Gallery in London is that it is indeed genuine.
From here, “The Lost Leonardo” turns into an global intrigue as the documentary reveals freeports, a safe haven for the wealthy to avoid taxes by allowing transactions of high value to occur without taxation since these ports fall outside of government control and regulation. Yves Bouvier, the owner of several freeports, purchases the piece for $75 million. Neither Bouvier nor Rybolovlev consented to be interviewed on camera for “The Lost Leonardo.”
From there, a scandal erupts between Bouvier and Russian collector, Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127.5m. The documentary demonstrates how lives are ruined over the dispute. However, the story does not end there. After the painting made its way across the globe, the painting was sold at auction in November, 2017 for $450.3m stunning the world as the record price paid for an artwork.
At the time, the identity of the purchaser was not initially disclosed, and the documentary implies that the reason for the secrecy shrouding the purchase was for security – knowing that the established value of the painting without official authentication.
The documentary turns to a number of reporters who are familiar with the art world and have the necessary connections to try and piece the puzzle of the latest owner of the work. Their investigation leads them to the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Abdullah. Further intrigue arises from the fact that even with MBS identified, no one knows the work’s whereabouts.
For religious reasons, the French are brought in to not only do an independent verification of its authenticity, but to display it at the Louvre in Paris. Ultimately, and in a cloak of secrecy, the painting is not displayed leading to further speculation, which “The Lost Leonardo” cannot answer, because the story isn’t yet done. Breadcrumbs are left behind for those in the art world and in the investigative journalism community to speculate on, leading the documentary to suggest that in a political move, MBS is committed to a new art installation in cooperation with the French in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert.
“The Lost Leonardo” has a very rich feeling about it, not in the sense of the financial transactions described or wealth the subjects have amassed. The look and feel of “The Lost Leonardo” is very stately, very respectful. The camera lingers on each subject as a way of transitioning between segments. Sometimes, an eerie feeling is evoked; “inquiring minds” literally want to know what’s become of the painting and when it will be shared with the rest of the world.
John McTiernan’s 1999 remake, “The Thomas Crown Affair” kept coming to mind as each twist and turn was revealed. “The Lost DaVinci” is by no means an open and shut case as in McTiernan’s film. However, the people in power who are at the center of the various stages of the documentary remind one of Pierce Brosnan’s role in the film – debonair, stuffy to an extent, sophisticated and ready to play the world for the fool’s we must think we are, something the documentary alludes to. We’re so excited to be in the presence of a famed work of art that we cannot understand its true significance, nor can we appreciate when we’ve been had.
If you’re wondering why I’ve laid out all the breadcrumbs for you, it is because the story itself is so very fascinating. In addition to recalling “Wall Street” and “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “The Lost Leonardo” also reminds one of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” How might you ask? Well, in the case of the Lost Ark of the Covenant, that story suggests a provenance that the character could follow and, as in the case with “The Lost Leonardo,” the start of the mutual stories is with the happenchance of finding the lost work of art; the power and ultimately the greed behind it. But, they are also both symbols of power, meant to be studied.
In the end, both pieces are securely shuffled into a dark corner, away from those who would use them as symbols of power, continually shrouded in mystery.
Lives were upended in this journey, and “The Lost Leonardo” doesn’t skirt those issues.
“The Lost Leonardo” is a fascinating discovery of a work of art that has those in the know curious and those who have touched it have either gotten even more rich or have had lives ruined. For now, if we can’t see the Salvatore Mundi, if it cannot be displayed for the world to appreciate it, then we’re left with many questions, on whose answers we can only continue to speculate.
Until the painting is either sold again or displayed. Both scenarios will result in a power play.
NR, 100 minutes, Sony Pictures Classics/Dogwoof/Elk Film/Pumpernickle Films