The ‘Salvator Mundi’ and the Value of Culture

Just in this year alone the art world has seen two record breaking sales at auction totaling $560.5 M. combined. The works, of course, were Basquiat’s Untitled (1972) piece in the Sotheby’s Post-War and Contemporary auction in May and, most recently, Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, sold in the Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary auction last month. The most recent Art Market Report published by Tefaf this year has determined that the value of the art market in the last year is about ∗$45 Billion, meaning the sales of these two pieces alone would account for roughly 1.2% of the entire market… which is huge for TWO individual pieces of artwork.

Since this last $450 M. sale of “The Last da Vinci”, I’ve thought a lot about how these prices are constructed in the art world and why these works are fetching values of this magnitude. I’m a strong believer in the arts and its place in society, and can see the historical and cultural importance of artists like da Vinci and Basquiat, along with so many others. Yet it’s still mind-boggling trying to wrap my head around the reality that a piece of art just sold for nearly the same amount as the entire ∗GDP of Samoa.

An article I came across earlier this month helps to explain this phenomenon, and the reasoning behind why there are so many individuals willing to invest so much in works of art.


(Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images via art

“Why Would Anyone Pay $450 M. for the Salvator Mundi? Because They’re Not Buying the Painting” 

Tim Schneider,



∗ Findings taken directly from the 2017 edition of the TEFAF Art Market Report
∗Based on financial publications provided by

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