Chinese Billionaire Liu Yiqian Is the Buyer for the Record-Breaking $170-Million Modigliani Nude

He has previously set auction records for Chinese artworks.

Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei receiving the certificate from Christie's for their purchase of a record-priced Tibetan tapestry. Photo: Phillipe Lopez, courtesy AFP.
Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei receiving the certificate from Christie's for their purchase of a record-priced Tibetan tapestry. Photo: Phillipe Lopez, courtesy AFP.

Last night’s $170.4 million Amedeo Modigliani, the second-most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, was purchased at Christie’s New York by Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian and his wife, Wang Wei, for their Long Museum in Shanghai.

Liu, worth $1.38 billion according to Forbes, has previously made headlines for his record-breaking purchases of Chinese art. In 2014, he smashed the record for the most expensive Chinese artwork sold at auction not once but twice, spending $36.3 million on a porcelain chicken cup (which he then proceeded to drink from) in April, and $45 million on a Tibetan tapestry in November.

The Meiyintang Chicken Cup, (Ming Dynasty).Photo: courtesy of Sotheby's.

The Meiyintang “Chicken Cup” (Ming Dynasty).
Photo: courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Counted among artnet News’s top 200 collectors, Liu is known for maximizing his art purchases by charging them to his American Express card and cashing out the miles for free overseas travel. While Liu appears to have an inconceivably high credit limit, he is forced to make his purchases across multiple transactions, signing as many as 24 receipts for a single multi-million work.  No word yet on whether he’s charging his latest blue chip buy.

Liu may have also picked up the top lot at Sotheby’s $377 million A. Alfred Taubman sale last week, a Modigliani portrait of the artist’s young muse, Paulette Jourdain, for $42.8 million.

Since 2012, Liu has displayed his art collection at his two museums in Shanghai: the Long Museum Pudong and the Long Museum West Bund, which the couple opened in 2014. At the time, the second location was touted as country’s largest private art museum.

“Our museum is just two to three years old and currently houses mostly Chinese traditional culture,” Liu told the Wall Street Journal. “This is a great opportunity for us to collect a world masterpiece and will bring our museum to a new era.”

Amedeo Modigliani, Nu couché, 1917–18. Courtesy Christie's New York.

Amedeo Modigliani, Nu couché, 1917–18.
Courtesy Christie’s New York.

The painting, Nu Couche (Reclining Nude), 1917–18, attracted no less than seven bidders, with a starting price of $75 million. The old Modigliani record, set this past November at Sotheby’s New York, was $70.7 million for his stone sculpture Tête (1911–12). Monday’s record-setting canvas, sold by art historian Laura Mattioli Rossi, depicts a slumbering nude woman in a suggestive pose.

“It was a sensational picture and it brought a sensational price,” Guy Jennings, managing director of the Fine Art Fund in London and Christie’s former deputy chairman of Impressionist and modern art in New York told AFP. “It was the best painting Modigliani ever made. It’s not often that you can say this about an artwork at auction.”

Despite the success of the Modigliani painting, last night’s “The Artist’s Muse” auction failed to match the spring success of Christie’s $705.9 million “Looking Forward to the Past” sale, where Pablo Picasso, Les Femme d’Algers (Version “O”) became the most expensive painting ever sold at auction with a $179.4 million price tag. Sales on the night totaled a mammoth $491.4 million.


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