Modigliani painting sells to Chinese billionaire for record breaking $170m

11 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Chinese billionaire buys Modigliani painting for $170 mn.

A Chinese billionaire who was once a taxi driver bought Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu Couche for $170.4 million on Monday at Christie’s in New York, making it the second-highest auction price for any artwork. A painting by Amedeo Modigliani fetched $170.4 million US at an auction Monday, setting a world record for the artist and achieving the second-highest price ever for a work of art at auction. Though the name of the buyer was anonymous at the time of the auction, Bloomberg later revealed that Modigliani’s masterpiece was now the possession of Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian. Modigliani’s “Reclining Nude” joined the ranks of nine other works that have reached price tags exceeding $100 million at auction and became the second-most expensive artwork sold at auction.

Liu Yiqian, who is one of China’s biggest art collectors, told The New York Times that he had bought the painting and intended to exhibit it to mark the museum’s fifth anniversary. “This work is relatively nice compared to his other nude paintings. 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.

The evening auction raked in a total of US$491.35 million, busting pre-sale estimates of US$443 million, marking a return to form after a sluggish opening auction at Sotheby’s suggested that bumper profits might be levelling off. First place in that regard belongs to Pablo Picasso’s “Women of Algiers (Version O)”, which sold for $179.4 million at Christie’s in May of this year. The evening sale entitled The Artist’s Muse also set a new record at auction for US pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, with his Nurse selling for US$95.37 million. The “Reclining Nude” sale was reportedly made at the end of a “frantic nine-minute bidding war” between seven buyers, with a Chinese buyer on the phone ultimately securing the piece.

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. On being first displayed in Paris, a few years after being created, it almost created a scandal. “This painting leaps off the page as the most vibrant, sexual, lyrical of the catalogue raisonne,” said Ana Maria Celis, a Christie’s specialist in postwar and contemporary art, to the NYT. If sold for the estimate, the price would exceed the artist’s current auction record of $10.7 million and set a record for a sculpture by a female artist. Christie’s writes of the piece on its website: “It was, by all accounts, the product of several hours of intense, feverish work painting ‘orgasmically’, according to the painter Tsuguharu Foujita, in a small, poorly furnished room, alone with his model, two chairs, a couch and a bottle of brandy during what was probably the worst year of the Great War.” “There’s something voyeuristic and yet wonderfully frank about it,” the Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan wrote of “Reclining Nude” in 2005. Brett Gorvy, Christie’s chairman, told Financial Times the auction house’s second “curated” sale, was assembled over summer in an environment of volatile financial markets.

But 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 US$20-30 million. It united works of artists from across periods and themes and it was “very, very important to see how strong” the market was for works over $100 million. This is the highest price a work by the pop artist has reaped at auction; previously, his auction record had been just over half that number at $56 million. Notable: A diptych in which the artist’s strong features are intertwined with the more refined chiseled features of his friend, the American photographer Peter Beard.

There is clearly good appetite among collectors for exceptional works of art offered with appropriate estimates, said Brook Hazelton, president of the Americas for Christie’s. He also said: “That there were eight bidders over that mark demonstrated how dynamic the market is for the masterpiece level… the demand was strong magical moment of rarity, quality and beauty all represented in the same object.”

This is a very broad and globally diverse market at the moment, with strong interest in paintings, sculpture and works on paper from the $10,000 level straight up to multimillion-dollar masterpieces at the top end. The 1990 work replicates a catchphrase from the 1957 film noir “Sweet Smell of Success: “The cat’s in the bag, and the bags in the river,” which the artist shortened to “Cats In Bag Bags In River” on bold lettering. The artwork’s accompanying notes remark that “Lichtenstein has managed to create an image of a nurse that uncomfortably straddles the domains of sexual fantasy and schlock-horror and in doing so has made it appear all the more raw, and more powerfully subversive than the harmless innocence of its original context.”

Notable: Created in 1963-1964, the large monochromatic, human-sized, egg-shaped canvas is punctuated and perforated with irregular holes, some craterous in shape, and covered in bright yellow oil paint. On Tuesday, Christie’s is offering Freud’s Brigadier, a portrait of Andrew Parker Bowles, the former husband of Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the wife of Prince Charles. It was on view at the 2012 retrospective of the artist at the National Portrait Gallery in London and portrays the career soldier wearing his sumptuous army brigadier uniform.

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