The Lost Leonardo
by George Wolf
In 2005, a “sleeper hunter” looking for undervalued art made a pretty good call when he bought a work at a New Orleans auction for $1,175. Twelve years later, that painting sold for a record-setting $450 million.
What happened in between is a real world mystery, one that The Last Leonardo unveils like a globe-trotting thriller to deliver a completely spellbinding ride. Full of amazing discoveries, dangerous despots, faith, doubt, economics and greed, it’s a behind-the-brush account of “the most improbable story in the art market.”
Only 15 Da Vinci works were known to exist before that Louisiana find, and none had been discovered for over a century. Could that Big Easy bargain actually be the 16th, an early 1500s work entitled Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World)? Plenty of important voices in the art world say yes. Others say there’s a better chance of finding aliens landing in your front yard. And some can’t make up their minds about the painting.
Oh, and nobody seems to know where it went.
Director and co-writer Andreas Koefoed weaves the layers of this tale together with a damn fine sense of artistry himself. He quickly shapes the backstory with a hook irresistible to even an art history novice, then keeps a steady pace of twists and revelations to rival the most delicious true crime sensations.
Koefoed mixes first-person interviews with jet-setting locales, and stylish art restoration technology with political intrigue. His sense of timing is sharp as well, knowing just when to spotlight the accusation that with a question this large and an answer so potentially valuable, “opinions matter more than facts.”
Because by the time the film enters its third act, Koefoed’s meticulous approach – paired with the refreshing honesty of many of the players involved – has seamlessly shown how the process moves past art, and even commerce, to settle comfortably on power.
And much like the treasures waiting beneath centuries of brushstrokes, the brisk 96 minutes of The Lost Leonardo also manage to transcend the galleries and auction houses to speak more universally on how this global brokerage network flourishes largely out of the spotlight.
But don’t be scared off by the whiff of stuffy art house pretension, this is also a damn fine piece of entertainment. I mean, all due respect to GD National Treasure Tom Hanks, but here’s a Da Vinci mystery that’s suitable for framing.