Wed, Nov 11, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Modigliani’s ‘Nu Couche’ sells for US$170.4 million


Christie’s employees work the telephones on Monday during the auction of Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu Couche at Christie’s Auction House in New York City.

Photo: EPA

A Chinese collector snapped up a sensuous Modigliani nude for US$170.4 million in New York, setting a new world record price at auction for the Italian artist, in a bumper Christie’s sale.

The evening auction also set world auction records for US pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, whose Nurse fetched US$95.37 million, as well as for 19th century French painter Gustave Courbet.

It raked in a total of US$491.35 million, busting pre-sale estimates of US$443 million and marking a return to form after a sluggish opening auction at Sotheby’s suggested that profits might be leveling off.

Modigliani’s Nu Couche, painted from 1917 to 1918, sold after a frantic nine-minute bidding war between seven would-be buyers on the first time the painting has ever come to auction.

It was the second-highest price ever achieved at auction for a work of art and applause erupted in the packed room when the sale concluded — clinched by a Chinese buyer on the telephone, Christie’s said.

It was just US$9 million shy of the world record of US$179.4 million for Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) — which the auction house sold in New York in May last year in a record-breaking spring season.

The Modigliani oil on canvas depicts a naked woman reclining on a red couch and blue cushion and provoked a scandal when it was first exhibited by the Italian artist in Paris.

A crowd gathered outside the window and outraged police ordered the exhibition to shut down immediately.

“We are in a masterpiece market,” auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen, said, adding that the rare and important works on offer “created a huge amount of energy and bidding.”

The painting has exhibited in some of the finest art galleries all over the world including at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The previous record for a Modigliani was US$70.7 million, set in November last year for a sculpture.

The evening sale entitled also set a new record at auction for Lichtenstein, with his Nurse selling for US$95.37 million.

That made it a shrewd investment for the seller, who acquired the iconic piece of US pop art and comic book-inspired portrait for US$1.65 million in 1995.

The price reached for the shocked-looking blonde with red lips smashed the previous record for a Lichtenstein — US$56 million paid for Women with Flowered Hat in 2013.

Simple yet mysterious, Nurse, measuring 122cm by 122cm appears as fresh today as when it was painted in 1964, and the image remains popular across the world.

It comes from the height of the US pop art movement and is a regular in retrospectives on Lichtenstein, who died in 1997.

Monday’s sale follows record-breaking sales in New York in May, when more than US$2.6 billion of art was sold in 10 days.

A Courbet, Femme Nue Couchee, sold for US$15.29 million — four times higher than the artist’s previous record of US$3.74 million.

Another highlight was a work in wood by Paul Gauguin, Therese, which fetched US$30.97 million, setting a new world auction record for a sculpture by the French artist.

Another standout was a Paul Cezanne, L’homme a la pipe which went for US$20.89 million.

However, 10 lots failed to sell, including a nude portrait of Bella Freud, the fashion designer daughter of British painter Lucian Freud, which was estimated to be worth between US$20 million and US$30 million.

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