BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB/RNN) - Fewer than 20 paintings by Leonardo da Vinci have survived to this day. More than a century has passed since the last time one was rediscovered.
According to The Wall Street Journal, da Vinci’s circa-1500 painting of Christ as the world’s savior, “Salvator Mundi” - auctioned last year for a record-setting $450.3 million - has been owned by British kings, Russian oligarchs, and a 70-year-old retired library technician in Baton Rouge, La.
Last week, Susan Hendry Tureau learned that a painting her father, Basil Clovis Hendry Sr., had owned was re-authenticated as a da Vinci. She and her siblings remember seeing is hanging in the plantation-style Baton Rouge home of her father, who owned a local sheet-metal company.
“We can’t believe it, that such an incredible piece could have been in our family and we didn’t even know it all this time,” Hendry Tureau said.
Hendry Tureau said her father, who died in June 2004, inherited the artworks after the 1987 death of aunt Minnie Stanfill Kuntz. Hendry Tureau said her great aunt and great uncle often traveled to Europe and purchased art and antiques for their collection while abroad. Travel records uncovered by the Wall Street Journal indicate the couple returned from London in the summer of 1958.
The painting was sold for about $120 in June of 1958 to “Kuntz Private Collection USA,” according to the official provenance record of an estate auction that included the painting. By that point, WSJ reports, the painting had been mischaracterized as a “school of da Vinci” portrait by one of the artist’s pupils.
Twelve days after the sale, the Kuntzes traveled from Southampton, England to Houston, Texas.
Records trace the painting back to King Charles I, who listed it as part of his royal inventory one year before he was executed in 1649. The painting changed hands multiple times after that, and somewhere along the way, its attribution got lost.
When Hendry Sr. died, the painting was appraised at $750. Hendry Tureau’s brother sent items to Christie’s auction house in New York and the St. Charles Gallery branch of New Orleans Auction Gallery in New Orleans. The New Orleans Auction Gallery estimated the painting to sell between $1,200 and $1,800, according to a copy of a 2005 catalog obtained by the Wall Street Journal.
In that 2005 auction, art dealer Robert Simon and his colleague Alexander Parrish bought a painting by an unknown artist. Simon says he is unable to disclose details of the 2005 sale because of a nondisclosure agreement he signed when he sold the painting in 2013.
Hendry Tureau says she doesn’t think her relatives or her father knew of the work’s significance because it had been heavily overpainted. Simon asked his friend to restore it, and her work cleaning the piece eventually led to the discovery that is was the authentic Leonardo da Vinci “Salvator Mundi.”
The dealers sold the painting to a Swiss art advisor for $80 million. It was immediately resold for $127 million. In November of 2017, it was offloaded at Christie’s.
Christie’s estimated that it would sell for $100 million, but when Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bought the painting for $450.3 million, the sale proved historic.
Today, “Salvator Mundi” forms part of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection.
Hendry Tureau said the masterpiece’s lost-and-found saga—and her family’s forgotten role in it—are still “hard to absorb,” she said. “In my little humdrum retirement life you know, to have something this major happen. It’s so exciting.”
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