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Bouvier Affair At An End (Maybe)

December 13, 2023

The portrait of Jesus Christ named Salvator Mundi, by Leonardo Da Vinci, bought by Yves Bouvier on behalf of Dmitry Rybolovlev

Da Vinci's Salvator Mundi

The Bouvier affair has been one of the most prolific feuds the art world has experienced in the past ten years. We've been covering it since it first started in 2015. And now it seems like it’s finally coming to an end… sort of.

To sum up, the Russian oligarch Dimitri Rybolovlev, who made his fortune primarily in the fertilizer business, amassed one of the finest art collections in the world with the help of a Swiss businessman named Yves Bouvier. Between 2003 and 2014, Bouvier purchased paintings on the Russian billionaire's behalf, buying thirty-eight paintings for about $2 billion. The crown jewel in Rybolovlev’s collection was Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which he later sold at Christie’s for around $400 million ($450.3 million w/p), making it the most valuable painting ever sold at auction. Rybolovlev has accused Bouvier of scamming him out of $1.1 billion. According to the numerous criminal complaints filed over the past nine years, Bouvier acted as Rybolovlev’s agent and was supposed to charge a 2% fee. However, Bouvier asserts that he was not acting as an agent but an independent dealer and, therefore, could determine his profit margins however he pleased. For example, Bouvier purchased Salvator Mundi at Sotheby’s for $75 million. He then turned around and sold it to Rybolovlev for $127.5 million. He, therefore, raised the final price by 41%. While several courts have dismissed Rybolovlev’s suits against Bouvier, the Russian billionaire still went ahead and sued Sotheby’s for allegedly collaborating with Bouvier to defraud him.

This dispute has seen the insides of courtrooms throughout the world, with proceedings taking place in Monaco, Geneva, Singapore, Hong Kong, and New York. For years, sometimes it seemed like it was all winding down, and then someone would file another motion or submit another criminal complaint in a different court. However, I think this is finally the end. Swiss prosecutor Yves Bertossa announced that the parties had entered into mediation after being informed they had no grounds for a criminal case against Bouvier. Then, on Thursday, December 7th, they agreed to settle out of court. The parties have not disclosed the settlement's details, but Bouvier and his legal team quickly declared victory. However, Rybolovlev’s lawsuit against Sotheby’s is still making its way through the courts in New York. It is set to go to trial in January 2024. But for the first time in nine years, Rybolovlev and Bouvier are no longer at each other's throats.