Flaky winning bids are knocking the gloss off record-breaking sales. Shortly before Christie’s sale of post-war and contemporary art in New York on 15 November 2017, the auction house learnt of a potential new bidder: a little-known Saudi prince, Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud. According to the New York Times, a scramble ensued to establish his identity and financial means, and, in order to bid, he had to pay a $100m deposit for a red paddle.

The work he bid for, Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi (around 1500), went on to make a record-shattering $450.3m and was bought by Abu Dhabi with the prince acting as a middleman, but why did all the bidders on the high-value work need a special paddle? Quite simply because Christie’s wanted to be sure the final buyer would pay up. Such high-profile prices rightly make auction houses wary when it comes to payment. One of the first public cases was of Van Gogh’s Irises sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1987 for $53.9m—the highest price ever paid at auction for a painting at the time—to the Australian businessman Alan Bond. But he could not pay, and Sotheby’s had to lend him around half the purchase …read more

Image: Christie’s sued over non-payment for Jean- Michel Basquiat’s The Field Next to the Other Road Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat