A painting with a long and controversial provenance tracing back to Leonardo da Vinci, shocked bidders at an Old Masters Sotheby’s auction after it sold for $1.5 million, more than three times its estimated value.
The work, “La Belle Ferronniere,” was part of a sale that brought in $61.5 million at auction, which included sculptures. While the painting wasn’t the most expensive, it was the most talked about.
“Everybody was interested in its history … The fact is, at the end of the day it was beautiful,” George Wachter, Sotheby’s co-chairman of the Old Master Painting Worldwide, told Reuters.
A private, unnamed collector bought the painting, which is believed to be a portrait of Lucrezia Crivelli, who was a mistress of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan.
Another version of the painting by da Vinci, according to experts, hangs in the Louvre in Paris.
La Belle Ferronniere had been locked away in a vault for decades. It at the center of a slander trial in the 1920s, and has been featured in two books.
The painting was given to Harry Hahn, a World War I soldier who married while in France and received it as a wedding gift. It was initially thought to have been done by Leonardo himself and authenticated as such by a French art expert.
Hahn tried to sell the painting to the Kansas City Art Institute in 1920, but Joseph Duveen, a leading art dealer, pronounced it a fake and killed the deal.
Hahn’s wife sued Duveen for slander in a case that captured the art world’s attention. The jury failed to reach a verdict, and Duveen eventually paid the Hahn’s $60,000 to settle the case.
Adjusted for inflation to match today’s dollars, the settlement would have amounted to $639,576.
Experts believe the portrait dates before 1750 because it contains lead-tin yellow, color ingredients that were discarded in the late 17th century. But it’s true origin is unknown, according to Reuters.
That didn’t matter to the buyer. “It shone through everything to be just a very potent, moving picture and the buyer had no interest in the speculation, or in whom the artist was,” Wachter said.