Published: March 27, 2018
On November 15, 2017, Christie’s auctioned “Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci for a record $450,312,500. The long-lost picture was rediscovered and acquired in 2005 by the New York dealers Robert Simon and Alexander Parish, who sold it privately before it resurfaced at auction. Simon, who exhibits at several top fairs and maintains a gallery at 22 East 80th Street in Manhattan, specializes in European art of the Renaissance and baroque periods, with a minor focus on colonial Latin American and Nineteenth Century European works. Simon makes the highly scholarly Old Masters field approachable with his easy, engaging manner. And with his discovery of Leonardo’s “Salvator Mundi,” he secured for all time his reputation for spotting overlooked gems.
Can you disclose where you found Leonardo’s “Salvator Mundi”?
Alex and I acquired the painting at an estate auction in the United States, but we’ve never divulged the location of the auction. We were not permitted to, according to the terms of the confidentiality agreement we signed at the time that we sold the painting.
What were your first thoughts on seeing the picture? When did you come to believe it was indeed by Leonardo?
I thought the painting had real possibilities. But, honestly, only as a very fine example by one of Leonardo’s contemporaries or students. It took two years of study and two years of meticulous conservation work before I allowed myself to begin to believe this could be the real thing.
Has your life changed since the discovery?
Yes, in a few ways. I was able to add a library onto my house, for instance. Otherwise, my lifestyle is remarkably unchanged. I take pleasure in the things that gave me pleasure before and worry about what worried me previously. It makes for a balanced life.
Did the record sale increase interest in the Old Masters field?
Time will tell. It certainly was refreshing to see popular attention focused on the artist I believe was the greatest example of our civilization, if not our species. But whether this will last in a culture focused on the new and the transient is hard to predict.
Do you make a cameo appearance in Walter Isaacson’s best-selling book Leonardo da Vinci?
Yes, I do. It is a fine book and it includes a chapter on the “Salvator Mundi.”
With a doctorate from Columbia, how did you end up a dealer? What do you love most about what you do?
The basic truth is that I could not find an academic position in a place I liked. I wanted to stay in New York and so began working as an appraiser, in my free time attending every auction viewing I could. Eventually, I was offered a job doing research for Piero Corsini, a dealer in Old Master pictures. I discovered I had a knack for identifying misattributed works. At first they were by very minor artists, but I’ve moved up since. I am one of those lucky people who is able to work in a field that I enjoy and care about. Studying and dealing with art brings great satisfaction from the places I visit, the people I meet and the paintings I am able to handle.
What interests you most today?
I am still very interested in Sixteenth Century Florentine painting, the subject of most of my academic work. My dissertation was on Bronzino. But I remain passionate about all sorts of art: Amarna period sculpture, Sienese gold-grounds, Carlo Crivelli, Caravaggio and his followers, Andrew Wyeth, South Indian bronzes.
I’m happy to see you devote space to Spanish Colonial art. Are you finding a receptive audience?
Yes, there is definitely a growing interest among museums. There is an awareness that “colonial” in our diverse country can mean more than what flourished in the Northeast. Converging cultures, to borrow the title of the wonderful exhibition of Latin American art at the Brooklyn Museum in 1996, bring together both European – largely Spanish – culture and the arts and traditions of the varied populations of the Americas. For me it is an exciting area, one only recently the focus of serious study and collecting.
What would readers be surprised to learn about you?
That I started painting a couple of years ago – and that I am not very good at it (maybe not so surprising)!
Best find lately?
Can’t say. I am working on it.
One that got away?
Too many of those – and I try to forget about them. One must trust in picture karma.
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