Getty Museum casts doubt on Leonardo da Vinci painting’s authenticity

Museum says in new letter it finds holes in claim that painting is by Leonardo da Vinci

The art auction record has now been broken three times, but the latest art auction of the year may yet fall short of the £457m record set last month.

Two days after Christie’s’ sold off the £450m masterpiece The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, the Getty Museum is now casting doubts on its provenance and letter of authenticity.

The Getty Museum in Los Angeles is holding its own Leonardo Da Vinci auction on 23 May, in which works by others major artists are also expected to attract bids. It has refused to tell the press any details of the auction, even to confirm they are being held.

After a Vanity Fair reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act request, the Getty now revealed that it has a letter from art historian Gunther von Hagens, who claimed the picture was one of his inventions. It has remained private for 40 years.

David Eisenman, curator at the Getty, said in a letter to the New York Times that the letter raised doubts about the authenticity of the Renaissance masterpiece. He did not call the signature “despicable”, as he had in his letter to Vanity Fair.

In that letter, Eisenman wrote: “The name on the forgery appears to be a pseudonym for an unnamed famous forger.

“Relying on the forgery’s dubious handiwork, von Hagens falsely alleges that the painting dates from the artist’s lifetime (1324-1402) and was made by Leonardo.”

The letter from the artist, which Eisenman then published, has not yet been independently verified.

The interest in the painting is increasing. Today, the Financial Times claimed it was rejected by the Leonardo da Vinci Foundation.

Sotheby’s, which is preparing its own Leonardo da Vinci auction, said it is aware of the note from the Getty and has been in talks with them for months over the sale.

Last month, Christie’s sold the painting of Jesus Christ (The Last Supper) for the record-breaking £457m to a telephone bidder.

Last year, a painting of one of Leonardo’s most famous paintings, The Last Supper, sold for a record £139m.

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