da Vinci's Salvator Mundi, Savior of the World

An art feud worth over $1 billion is currently being fought in courts around the globe.

Yves Bouvier is a Swiss art dealer who buys and sells art for staggering amounts of money. Dmitry Rybolovlev is a Russian billionaire who made his fortune selling fertilizer to desert countries. The amount of money that has changed hands between the two men is astounding. Their story would make a good movie, maybe even an installment of James Bond or the Ocean series.

For the last six years, Rybolovlev has pursued Bouvier through the courts of the world, hitting him with lawsuit after lawsuit in six countries over an alleged $1 billion in art fraud. Rybolovlev claims that 38 of the artworks brokered to him by Bouvier in the past decade have been fraudulently overpriced. His allegations got Bouvier arrested for fraud in Monaco. Bouvier is counter-suing Rybolovlev in turn for damage to his business and reputation.

At the center of the art feud is the “Salvator Mundi,” a painting which has recently and controversially been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

In 2005, a group of art investors purchased the brutally damaged “Salvator Mundi” for just under $10,000. At the time, it was believed to be the work of students in da Vinci’s studio, or perhaps a copy of his own work by some other painter. But after several years of restoration, art experts began to point at evidence that at least part of the painting was the work of the Renaissance master’s own hand. In 2013, Bouvier bought the painting for $80 million in a private sale and then sold it on to Rybolovlev, who was his client at the time, for $127.5 million.

Rybolovlev’s lawsuit alleges that his contract with Bouvier dictated that the art dealer should only have taken a 1% commission, rather than the nearly 40% commission he wound up with. According to the terms of the alleged contract, Bouvier should have sold Rybolovlev the painting for under $81 million.

Complicating the case is that all of the art deals and cash transfers occurred via offshore vehicles, to keep taxes from becoming involved.

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