A little-known Saudi Arabian Prince has made his name all over the news starting last Wednesday, following an article published in The New York Times on 6 December identifying the prince as the mysterious buyer of world’s most expensive painting – Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi – which was sold for record US$450m at Christie’s New York last month.
Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, from a remote branch of the royal family, has no history as a major art collector. He is also reportedly a close associate of the Saudi Arabia's 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Saudi Arabian Prince Bader
The Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates also tweeted on Wednesday that the painting “is coming to LouvreAbuDhabi.” in Arabic, English and French.
However, on 7 December, Prince Bader said in a statement published by pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that he had “read with great surprise the report published about me in The New York Times newspaper and the strange and inaccurate information it contained.”
Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman
On the same day, the Wall Street Journal reported that US intelligence assessments had identified Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman as the true buyer behind the record bid.
An Arab familiar with the arrangement said Prince Bader bought the painting on behalf of the Saudi government. The painting is likely a gift from Saudi Arabia to the UAE as a sign of the strong friendship between the two countries. The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, is a close ally of the Saudi Crown Prince.
The Saudi and UAE governments have neither confirmed nor denied the painting being bought or received as a gift.
Last Friday, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism made an announcement that it has acquired the Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece Salvator Mundi.
Saudi Arabia embassy in Washington issued a statement saying that “the art work was acquired by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism” and Prince Bader, as a supporter of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, was asked to act as an “intermediary purchaser” by the department at the Louvre’s opening.
Christie’s also said in a statement that “Christie’s can confirm that the department of culture and tourism, Abu Dhabi, is acquiring Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci. We are delighted to see that this remarkable painting will be available for public view at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.”
It was not mentioned in the statement that whether Bin Salman was involved in the purchase. However, it would be embarrassing if the Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was found to have spent US$450m on a painting amid the anti-corruption sweep in his country, which has detained more than 200 people of the Saudi princes, prominent businessmen and high-ranking government officials, shaking the region over the past several weeks.