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Did Ken Griffin Buy the Leonardo (or provide $$$ for Art Institute of Chicago to acquire it)? UPDATED

While we’re all still coming to terms with the fact that a damaged 26″ x 18″ oil-on-walnut painted panel has just sold for $450.3 million, here’s a potential scoop that is based on some data, intuition, circumstantial evidence and my attempt to get confirmation:

I have reason to believe that Kenneth Griffin, the Chicago hedge fund mogul, may have bankrolled yesterday’s Leonardo purchase.

Ken Griffin at the 2009 opening of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Here’s why:

I noticed today that my blog post (linked at the top of this post) about last night’s auction of Leonardo da Vinci‘s “Salvator Mundi” was garnering an unusual number of hits from Chicago. That immediately made me think of Griffin, a board member and major benefactor of the Art Institute of Chicago. His chief passion is contemporary art, not the Italian Renaissance, so it seemed a bit of a stretch.

Then I saw a CNBC post—Who bought the $450 million da Vinci?—that mentioned only one possible buyer’s name: “There has been some speculation that the buyer was hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin.” But the CNBC post’s author, Robert Frank, added this: “Griffin wouldn’t comment but sources in the art world say he was not the buyer of the da Vinci.”

UPDATE: After I posted this, Frank’s post was expanded to suggest two other possible American buyers: Alice Walton and Jeff Bezos. (Why not Bill Gates and Paul Allen, while we’re at it?)

Intrigued by the coincidence of my speculation and Frank’s I put it directly to the Art Institute of Chicago’s director and former chair of modern and contemporary art, James Rondeau, who has been a close adviser to Griffin on his art purchases: I mentioned my Chicago blog traffic and CNBC’s post, noting that Frank’s wording did not preclude the possibility that Griffin was the source of funds for the museum (or some other entity) to acquire the painting or to, in some other way, arrange it to be transferred to the AIC.

I ended my email to Rondeau with this:

I am now preparing a follow-up blog post that might speculate about this possibility. I wanted to alert you, and I’d greatly appreciate your stopping me if I’m wrong in this [emphasis added].

Here’s Rondeau’s reply, which just hit my inbox:

Thanks, Lee, but we’re not going to comment on this.

So what do you think? I know how I’d interpret it: If I was wrong, why wouldn’t he just say so? If my semi-informed hunch is true, we should know more soon: Museum’s don’t keep major acquisitions secret. Maybe this post will serve to hasten that announcement.

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