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Updated: May 6, 2010 23:23 IST

Legal battle over “da Vinci”

Dalya Alberge
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The painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci with a fingerprint, said to be that of the renaissance master, indicated. Photo: AP
AP The painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci with a fingerprint, said to be that of the renaissance master, indicated. Photo: AP

Auctioneers Christie's is facing a bitter compensation claim after a drawing it sold for £11,400 as a 19th-century German picture is claimed, actually, to be a 15th-century Leonardo da Vinci worth £100 million.

The picture's original owner, Jeanne Marchig, who runs a U.K. foundation for animal welfare, is accusing the auction-house of negligence, alleging that it misattributed the drawing. She claims that, in failing to “exercise due care”, it sold the artwork for a “fraction” of its true value, according to a complaint filed in the Manhattan federal court.

The drawing, a profile of a girl, is now on exhibition in Gothenberg, Sweden, as a Da Vinci. Ms Marchig is seeking unspecified damages, but court papers seen by the Guardian show her lawyer wants a substantial figure. They say the drawing is insured for more than $100 million and that its value exceeds $150 million.

Ms Marchig was “devastated” when she discovered last July — in a call from Christie's — that the Da Vinci scholar Martin Kemp had hailed the portrait as La Bella Principessa, a depiction of Bianca Sforza, daughter of the Duke of Milan. The court papers assert that there is ample evidence that it is a Da Vinci. They mention a faint fingerprint, which matches that on a painting by Da Vinci, and carbon tests indicating dates from 1440 to 1650, not the 19th century. Christie's is accused of failure to use scientific methods and technology.

But other experts are unconvinced of the attribution. Jacques Franck, the Da Vinci consultant at UCLA, told the Guardian on Wednesday: “It's not Leonardo's hand. The drawing presents anatomical mistakes, notably the link between the neck and the bust.” A Christie's spokesman said: “Christie's strongly disagrees with these claims and believes they are without merit.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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