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Adam Jandrup/Sony Pictures Classics

MOVIE REVIEW
The Lost Leonardo (2021)

The documentary “The Lost Leonardo” tracks a Salvator Mundi painting billed as “After Leonardo” by a New Orleans auction house and bought in 2005 for a song ($10,000, so relatively speaking). The purchasers were a group of art dealers that included Alexander Parish, a professional “sleeper hunter” in the business of finding works of art that are more valuable than auctioneers perceive, and Robert Simon. In 2017, Christie’s auctioned the painting, now dubbed “the male Mona Lisa,” for a record $450.3 million.

Filmmaker Andreas Koefoed isn’t interested in the painting’s provenance – the way François Girard was with “The Red Violin” – and glosses over its documented timeline that traces back to 1500. The film begins with Mr. Parish recounting his discovery and follows its journey through Dianne Modestini’s restoration and “freeport king” Yves Bouvier’s $83 million purchase in 2013 and quick flip with a $43.5 million markup to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who ultimately put it up for auction at Christie’s and sold it to Saudi Arabian prince Badr bin Abdullah.

The film remains ambiguous about the work’s authenticity, with art critic Jerry Saltz serving as doubt caster. Mr. Koefoed prefers instead to focus on the pissing contests among egomaniacal museum curators and the sinister plot to use pricy artwork as cryptocurrency for money laundering purposes. Still, Mr. Koefoed isn’t above manipulating viewers, opting to reenact Ms. Modestini’s restoration process so that we’ll be inclined to trust her narrative the most. But she has an unspecified personal financial stake in addition to allegedly painting over 90 percent of the severely damaged original. The film is certainly an eye-opener, although it never quite articulates why we should care about the ancillary political intrigue surrounding the painting.

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