$591m Da Vinci painting heads to Abu Dhabi's new Louvre

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The New York Times reports that it was purchased by Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Sau, a Saudi prince.

A Leonardo da Vinci painting of Christ that sold in NY for a record $US450 million ($591 million) is heading to a museum in the United Arab Emirates.

Prince Bader, though, is a friend and associate of Saudi's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the Times said has led a crackdown against corruption and self-enrichment in the country.

Christie's has steadfastly declined to say who bought the artwork, but confirmed its destination on Wednesday, at least partly solving the mystery.

Abu Dhabi opened its Louvre last month, positioning itself as a city of cultural tourism with a display of hundreds of works that it hopes will draw visitors from around the world.

The first museum to bear the Louvre name outside France has been billed as "the first universal museum in the Arab world" in a sign of the oil-rich emirate's global ambitions.

A museum spokesperson said it had no further comment at this stage.

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When he placed the required $100 million to participate in the Christie's auction, lawyers from the auction house asked how he acquired the money, according to documents obtained by the Times.

Salvator Mundi's staggering record eclipses the previous podium standings - which, adjusted for modern day pricings - include Interchange by Willem de Kooning which sold for $300 million in 2015, followed by The Card Players by Paul Cezanne which went for $250 million in 2011, followed by Nafea Faa Ipoipo by Paul Gauguin in third place, which sold for $210 million in 2014.

The museum opened with some 600 pieces including items from early Mesopotamia.

But there's still no public information on who purchased the painting at the record-setting auction in November, when the controversial artwork went for $450.3 million United States at Christie's, making it the most expensive painting ever sold. Under a 30-year agreement, France provides expertise, lends works of art and organises exhibitions in return for one billion euros ($1.16bn).

Meanwhile, Salvator Mundi has had a controversial history, with one expert doubting if it is still the original work of da Vinci.

Da Vinci died in 1519 and there are fewer than 20 of his paintings in existence. Bouvier, in turn, sold it to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127.5 million in 2014.