Modigliani nude painting sells for $170.4m in New York

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Nu couche (Reclining Nude_Image source, Christies
Image caption,
The painting had never been sold at auction before

A painting by Italian artist Modigliani was sold at auction on Monday for $170.4m (£113m), the second-highest price ever for a work sold at auction.

Nu couche (Reclining Nude) was sold at Christie's in New York to a Chinese collector.

It had never been sold at auction before, having been in the same private collection for about 60 years.

The top price achieved for an art work at auction was Picasso's Les femmes d'Alger which sold for $179m (£118.5m).

Media caption,

Record price for Modigliani

That was also sold at Christie's in May this year.

Nu couche, painted during 1917 and 1918, was estimated to fetch more than $100m before the auction took place. The price achieved was also a record for the artist.

Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian confirmed to the New York Times that he had purchased the painting.

Who is Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian?

•One of China's biggest art collectors

•Born in Shanghai in a working class family in 1963

•Previously worked as a handbag seller and taxi driver

•Made his fortune trading stocks in the 1980s and 1990s

•He and his wife have opened two art galleries in Shanghai

•Known for his high-profile bids and stunts - including when he drank from an ancient $36m ceremonial cup he had just bought at an auction in 2014

Analysis by Will Gompertz, Arts Editor

Last night Amedeo Modigliani joined Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch, Andy Warhol and Alberto Giacometti in the highly exclusive 100 Million Dollar Club. Membership requires an artist to have had a work sold at auction for more than $100m.

You'll recognise a pattern. They are all: male, modern, Western, white, figurative artists whose record-breaking works could loosely be described as expressionistic. Are they the four best artists in the modern canon? I don't think so. Picasso, certainly, but the others are debatable. Modigliani wouldn't make it into my Top 20.

Why, then, has his painting Nu Couche fetched such a lot of money? Condition, rarity, provenance, and fierce competition all played a role. The colour palette, with a generous helping of bright red paint was in its favour, as was its sexy, rather unsubtle subject matter. The picture is easy on the eye, instantly recognisable, and has terrific wall-power. And that's enough to make it a trophy acquisition over which several bidders were willing to scrap.

It is good. But it's no Matisse.

About half a dozen bidders competed for the Modigliani at the sale, which also included 33 other works, such as Paul Gauguin's sculpture Therese, which sold for $30,965,000 (£20,502,440).

Roy Lichtenstein's Nurse, fetched $95,365,000 (£63,123,067), a new world auction record for the artist and was the second-biggest seller of the night.

Image source, Christie's
Image caption,
Lichtenstein's Nurse achieved a record for the artist

The sale took an auction total of $494.4m (£327.3m) but it was not all good news - nearly 30% of the works up for grabs went unsold, including Lucian Freud's Naked Portrait on a Red Sofa, which was estimated at as much as $30m (£19.85m) but failed to sell.

Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie's global president said the sale of Nu couche was "well-deserved recognition for the artist to have realised a price $100m higher than any other (Modigliani) work previously offered at auction".

Referencing the sale's unsold lots, Pylkkanen said that was the risk of "pushing the envelope" and pointed out that some works were either not fresh to the market, or were perhaps aggressively priced.

While Picasso and Modigliani are the top two sales at auction, the most expensive work of art ever sold was a Paul Gauguin work which fetched $300m earlier this year. Nafea Faa Ipoipo, or When Will You Marry? was painted in 1892 and was sold privately.

The top 10 most expensive works of art sold at auction:

  1. Pablo Picasso's Les femmes d'Alger (1955) - $179,364,992
  2. Amedeo Modigliani's Nu couche (1917 - 1918) - $170,405,000
  3. Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Lucien Freud (1969) - $142,404,992
  4. Alberto Giacometti's L'homme au doigt (1947) - $141,284,992
  5. Edvard Munch's The Scream (1895) - $119,922,496
  6. Pablo Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) - $106,482,496
  7. Andy Warhol, Silver Car Crash (1963) - $105,445,000
  8. Pablo Picasso's Garcon a la pipe (1905) - $104,168,000
  9. Alberto Giacometti's L'homme qui marche (1960) - $103,935,480
  10. Alberto Giacometti's Chariot (1950) - $100,965,000

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