Modigliani's nude fetches record $242m

Amedeo Modigliani's Nu Couche or Reclining Nude (above) and Roy Lichtenstein's Nurse.
Amedeo Modigliani's Nu Couche or Reclining Nude (above) and Roy Lichtenstein's Nurse.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Amedeo Modigliani's Nu Couche or Reclining Nude and Roy Lichtenstein's Nurse (above).
Amedeo Modigliani's Nu Couche or Reclining Nude and Roy Lichtenstein's Nurse (above).PHOTO: REUTERS

Buyer is China's The Long Museum, founded by billionaire Liu Yiqian

NEW YORK • Christie's on Monday smashed world record prices at auction for Amedeo Modigliani and Roy Lichtenstein, selling works by the artists for US$170.4 million (S$242 million) and US$95.37 million respectively.

Modigliani's Nu Couche or Reclining Nude, painted in 1917-1918, sold in New York after a frantic nine-minute bidding war in 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, Christie's said.

Applause erupted in the packed room when the sale concluded. The Long Museum in China was the buyer of the Modigliani, Christie's said. The museum was founded by billionaire Liu Yiqian, who frequently buys art with his American Express card.

The world record is US$179.4 million for Picasso's The Women Of Algiers (Version 0), which the auction house sold in New York last May in a record-breaking spring season. The Modigliani oil on canvas depicts a naked woman reclining on a luscious 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 the outraged police ordered the exhibition to shut down immediately.

"It is unquestionably a masterpiece," Ms Jessica Fertig, co-head of the Christie's sale, told reporters before the auction.

The painting has exhibited in some of the finest art galleries all over the world, including at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.

The specially curated evening sale titled The Artist's Muse also set a new record at auction for American artist Lichtenstein, with his Nurse.

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

The price reached for Nurse - a shocked-looking blonde with sexy red lips - smashed the previous record for a Lichtenstein, set for Women With Flowered Hat in 2013 for US$56 million.

Simple yet mysterious, the Nurse painting, 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 American pop art movement and is a regular in retrospectives on Lichtenstein, who died in 1997.

The canvas was first bought by renowned pop art collector Leon Kraushar, who also owned masterpieces by Andy Warhol.

The auction was led by Mr Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie's No. 2 and follows record-breaking sales in New York in May, when more than US$2.6 billion of art was sold in 10 days.

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

One of the items that failed to sell was a nude portrait of Bella Freud, the fashion designer daughter of British painter Lucian Freud, which was estimated to be worth US$20 million to US$30 million.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'Modigliani's nude fetches record $242m'. Print Edition | Subscribe