Is This the End for the Leonardo da Vinci Painting Feud Between Billionaires?

School of Leonardo da Vinci Salvator Mundi Museo Diocesano Napoli
Leonardo da Vinci - Salvator Mundi Credit: Wikipedia

Art dealer Yves Bouvier and Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev’s feud over a disputed Leonardo da Vinci painting has finally come to a close, putting an end to one of the biggest conflicts in art market history.

The dramatic saga unfolded back in 2015 when Rybolovlev accused Bouvier of inflating the value of a 38-painting collection he had sold to the oligarch, including the renowned “Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci. This led to a series of lawsuits and criminal cases being filed against Bouvier in Monaco, France, and Switzerland.

However, over the years, the charges against Bouvier have gradually been dropped or settled. In 2019, the fraud and money laundering charges against him in Monaco collapsed after it was revealed that Rybolovlev had been bribing government officials in Monaco.

The recent settlement in Switzerland marks the end of the criminal case against Bouvier. As part of the agreement, a civil case against him in Singapore will also be concluded. Although the details of the settlement remain confidential, both parties have expressed that they have no claims against each other and will refrain from commenting on their past disputes.

For Bouvier, the settlement signifies the end of a “nine-year nightmare”. He has maintained his innocence throughout the legal battles and has claimed that the accusations have destroyed his international art business.

On the other hand, Rybolovlev’s legal pursuits are far from over. He is still seeking damages from Sotheby’s, the auction house, for their involvement in the valuations conducted by Bouvier. The trial is set to begin in New York in January, with the Russian seeking damages of $380 million.

The feud between the two billionaires has not only brought attention to the secretive nature of the international art market but has also raised concerns about the use of freeports to store valuable art, shielding it from taxation. The European Parliament has even called for the urgent phasing out of freeports in law, citing concerns about their role in facilitating international money laundering.

While the legal battles may be drawing to a close, the implications of this high-profile dispute are likely to have a lasting impact on the art world, shining a light on the questionable practices and vast sums of money involved in the valuation and trading of artworks.

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