What makes a work of art so precious?

The art and science behind valuing a masterpiece

08 Dec 2018

To most of the world, the record-setting $450 million sale price of “Salvator Mundi,” the painting widely attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, seems like an astronomical sum. It's now been reported that the masterpiece was bought by a Saudi prince and is headed to the Louvre Abu Dhabi—but for many, the question remains: What makes something so precious and so beautiful that it’s worth almost half a billion dollars?

For insight, we turned to Doug Woodham, author of the best-selling book “Art Collecting Today: Market Insights for Everyone Passionate about Art.”

In an interview with UBS Wealth Management Americas On-Air Host Anthony Pastore, Woodham shares insights on the art world and offers advice on collecting, including:

  • How to spot a fake and avoid overpaying for an authentic work
  • How masterworks like “Salvator Mundi” are valued—and who’s buying them
  • How scientists, scholars and auction houses authenticate a work of great art
  • What, apart from the da Vinci painting, the art world is buzzing about heading into Art Basel Miami, of which UBS is a long-time supporter

UBS is a long-time supporter of the premier international Art Basel shows in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong, for which UBS serves as global Lead Partner.

“Da Vinci is up there with Caesar, Galileo and Michelangelo as an inspiring figure for the past 500 years,” Woodham said. “Despite all that notoriety, he only made about 20 paintings [and] this was the last one in private hands—so it was a chance for somebody to own a piece of a multigenerational legend.”

Indeed, the process of authenticating, valuing and trading fine art can be quite complex. In a special UBS Investor Watch Pulse report, "For the love of art," released during Art Basel in Miami Beach, UBS found that despite recent high profile sales of fine art at auction houses this year, 65% of investors noted they have never sold a piece from their collection, and 41% confessed they have never had their collection appraised.

Woodham is the Managing Partner of Art Fiduciary Advisors, a New York-based advisory practice that helps clients create legacy plans for their art collections. He previously served as President of the Americas for Christie’s, the auction house that sold “Salvator Mundi.”

Have you considered how to protect and unlock the value of your collection? Together we can find an answer. Connect with your UBS Financial Advisor or find one.