Mona Lisa ‘replica’ sells for record €2.9m at auction in Paris

The painting is known as ‘Hekking’ after its previous owner, who lived in France and bought the piece for just €5 in Nice in the 1950s – and who believed his was the ‘real’ painting

20 June 2021
By Hannah Thompson

A ‘copy’ of the Mona Lisa - known as the Hekking Mona Lisa - has sold for a record €2.9 million at auction in Paris, much higher than its estimation of €300,000.

It had been estimated to sell for around €200,000-€300,000, but eventually went for €2.4 million (€2.9 million with fees) on June 18, via online auction in Paris by auction house Christie’s. The final amount is a record for a 17th century Mona Lisa reproduction.

A total of 14 bidders took part in the auction, which started last week, but the final winner is reported to be a “foreign European collector”, Christie’s said.

(Credit: Christies.com / Auction screenshot)

Sometimes more pejoratively known as the ‘fake’ Mona Lisa, the artwork dates back to the 17th century, and is thought to have been painted by a student or ‘follower’ of Leonardo da Vinci. 

It is now named after its previous owner, art collector Raymond Hekking, who bought it from an antiques shop near Nice in 1953, for around €5.

During his lifetime, Mr Hekking was a fierce defender of the painting, and in the 1960s continually argued that his piece was in fact the ‘real’ Mona Lisa, and that the work hanging in the Louvre was the ‘fake’. 

He repeatedly asked the famous Paris gallery to prove that its painting was authentic, and argued that the Mona Lisa painting that was returned to the Louvre in 1914 (after its theft by Italian Louvre employee Vincenzo Perugia in 1911), was in fact a copy.

He also funded a Pathé film, in which he examined the painting, and brought in experts to take a closer look at the work, which was then kept at his house in the village of Magagnosc, close to Grasse, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur.

Yet, his passionate defence has since been disproved; the painting has been repeatedly dated to the early 17th century, and shown to be the work of an ‘Italian follower of da Vinci’, not da Vinci himself.

Pierre Etienne, International Director of Old Masters at Christie’s, Paris, told Reuters: “The main difference probably, is the image itself. It looks like the Mona Lisa, but the quality of the execution is not Leonardo da Vinci. Unfortunately, at this point, the dream is a bit over.” 

After Mr Hekking’s death in 1977, the painting stayed in his family.

That the work sold for higher than the estimate was not unexpected; previous 17th century copies of the Mona Lisa have gone for as much as US$1,695,000 (€1,429,000, New York, March 2019), €552,500 (Paris, November 2019) and €162,500 (Paris, 2019).

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