Modigliani nude painting sold for $210 million

Amedeo Modigliani's Nu Couche is the largest painting produced by the artist.
Amedeo Modigliani's Nu Couche is the largest painting produced by the artist.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • When paintings by Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani - who reinvented the nude for the modern era - were first exhibited in 1917, they were considered so shocking that police closed the show in Paris.

Now, the artworks are hot property. On Monday, a stunning nude that is the largest painting produced by the artist, sold for US$157.2 million (S$210 million) in New York, becoming the fourth most expensive work of art sold at auction.

Painted a century ago, Modigliani's masterpiece Nu Couche (Sur Le Cote Gauche) fetched the highest price in Sotheby's history and was the star single lot in the May art auction season in New York.

Modigliani follows Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso as the third highest-selling artist at auction.

But Monday's sale failed to eclipse the US$170.4 million paid for another Modigliani nude at Christie's in 2015.

The bidding was restrained, lasting three to four minutes and opening at US$125 million before auctioneer Helena Newman brought the hammer down.

Still, the deal chalks up a healthy profit for the seller, who acquired the artwork in 2003 for US$26.9 million.

Modigliani completed 22 reclining nudes and 13 seated nudes between 1916 and 1919.

Most of the former are found in museums, such as The Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Mr Simon Shaw, co-head of impressionist and modern art at Sotheby's, said the painting sold on Monday, while rooted in tradition, reflected the changing status of women during World War I.

"This is a nude of a very selfpossessed, sexually confident woman who is not looking out from a distance. She's absolutely meeting our gaze," he noted.

Modigliani's dealer Leopold Zborowski had given him only a stipend of 15 francs a day and paid the models five francs to pose in a Paris apartment.

On Monday, other sales highlights included Picasso's Le Repos, which achieved US$36.9 million, and Claude Monet's Matinee Sur La Seine, which fetched US$20.55 million. But another Picasso, Femme Au Chien, failed to sell when no bids exceeded US$11 million.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2018, with the headline 'Modigliani nude painting sold for $210 million'. Print Edition | Subscribe