5 Fascinating Facts About the $170 Million Modigliani Nude at Christie’s

The artist joined the nine-figure club.

Amedeo Modigliani.
Photo: http://www.es.yareah.com.

Christie’s made history tonight with Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu Couché (Reclining Nude) (1917–18), which is the the star lot of “The Artist’s Muse” sale. The painting, estimated in the region of $100 million, sold for $170 million on Monday. The previous record for a work by the artist was held by Tête (1911–12), a carved stone sculpture that sold for $70.7 million at Sotheby’s last November.

Why is Nu Couché so expensive and what does the work say about today’s super-heated global art market? Below, we find five fascinating facts about the work.

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

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

1. Will Modigliani join the “$100 Million” club?
Will Modigliani now join Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Edvard Munch, and Andy Warhol in the small but growing group of artists whose work has broken the nine-figure mark at auction?

The $100 million asking price is more than $30 million  above the existing record for a Modigliani painting, $68.9 million for a 1917 portrait Nu assis sur un divan (La belle romaine), a semi-topless portrait that sold at Sotheby’s five years ago. Like the current work, it was acquired directly from the artist by Parisian collector, dealer and friend of the artist, Léopold Zboroswki. To date, nine works by Modigliani have sold for more than $30 million each, according to the artnet Price Database. This includes the A. Alfred Taubman collection Portrait of Paulette Jourdain, which sold for $42.8 million at Sotheby’s last week.

2. Modigliani spent much of his brief life in the gutter.
Modigliani was known on the streets of Montmartre and Montparnasse for his bohemian antics. In response to admonishment from sculptor Jacques Lipchitz that his excessive drinking was slowly killing him, Modigliani reputedly said: “I want to live a short intense life.” The artist was just 35 years of age when he died of tuberculosis in 1920.

According to Christie’s lengthy catalogue description, which earnestly quotes Oscar Wilde’s comedy Lady Lady Windermere’s Fan: “His story is the story of the poet who, though he spent much of his life in the gutter, was always looking at the stars.”

3. The artist had only one solo show in his lifetime…and the cops shut it down.
The nude, which depicts an anonymous model,  is one of a series that caused a scandal when they were first exhibited at the artist’s first and only solo show at Galerie Berthe Weill in Paris in 1917. A crowd formed outside the gallery window, where one of the nudes was openly on display and police demanded the immediate closure of the exhibition.

Amedeo Modigliani. Photo: http://www.es.yareah.com.

Amedeo Modigliani.
Photo: Courtesy of www.es.yareah.com.

4. The only other auction was 81 years ago.
Nu Couché has been widely and frequently published and exhibited over the past century, including at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, the Tate Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Palazzo Reale in Milan.

Christie’s mentions a single auction reference for the painting: “Società Anonima Finanziaria, Zaccaria Pisa, Milan; collection sale, Galleria Pesaro, Milan, 5–8 February 1934, lot 185.” It was later owned by the late Gianni Mattioli, a champion of early 20th-century Italian art. Sources confirmed to artnet News that the seller is the art historian Laura Mattioli Rossi, Mattioli’s daughter who inherited the collection upon his death in 1977.

5. What do experts think?
We asked art dealer David Nash, a former head of the Impressionist and modern art department at Sotheby’s, for his opinion of the work when Christie’s announced the consignment a few weeks ago. “I think it’s probably the best of the reclining nudes,” he said. “In the present state of the market I think [$100 million] is a pretty realistic assessment. It’s an absolutely fabulous picture.”

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