The Art and Science Behind Valuing a Masterpiece

To most of the world, the record-setting $450 million sale price for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi is an astronomical sum. It's now been reported that the work 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?

To help their clients understand better how the art market functions and what it means for art collectors, UBS Wealth Management Americas created a 4-part podcast series based on a recent interview with me. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Anthony Pastore, the On-Air Host at UBS. Click here for the podcasts. 

Part 1: How to spot a fake and avoid overpaying for an authentic work (4:23 minutes)

“Collecting art is a fun, exciting thing to do and is a great way to meet new people and have new experiences. But passion sometimes blinds people to the ugly realities of the art marketplace.”

Part 2: How masterworks like “Salvator Mundi” are valued—and who’s buying them (3:16 minutes)

“Da Vinci is up there with Caesar, Galileo and Michelangelo as an inspiring figure for the past 500 years. 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.”

Part 3: How scientists, scholars and auction houses authenticate a work of great art (6:13 minutes)

“There are three ways to authenticate an art object.”

Part 4: 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 (2:30 minutes)

“The David Rockefeller estate sale, which will be sold this Spring, includes many extremely valuable art objects that could sell in total for more than $500 million.”


Doug Woodham is the Managing Partner of Art Fiduciary Advisors, an advisory practice based in New York City that helps clients create legacy plans for their art collections. The firm offers comprehensive services, from clarifying family goals and evaluating alternative disposition strategies, through the execution of donation and sale agreements. The firm also advises collectors, artists, and institutions on the sale of art so they can be assured of maximizing sale proceeds in a very complex and opaque art marketplace. Earlier in his career, Doug was President of Christie’s for the Americas and a Partner with McKinsey & Company. He is also the author of the best-selling book Art Collecting Today: Market Insights for Everyone Passionate About Art (2017).