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Modigliani’s ‘Nu Couché’ Sells for $170 Million

Winning bid came via telephone from Shanghai

Hannah Vaitsblit
November 10, 2015
'Nu couché,' by Amedeo Modigliani, 1917, oil on canvasWikipedia
'Nu couché,' by Amedeo Modigliani, 1917, oil on canvasWikipedia

It’s a good day for the short-lived but prolific 20th century artist Amedeo Modigliani. But it’s a bad day for anybody who ever hoped to buy a piece of his work for a sale price below nine digits.

On Monday, Modigliani’s signature Nu Couché painting, deemed a “98-year old hymn to lust,” was swept up in a Christie’s auction for $170.4 million. The Tuscan-Sephardic Jewish artist, who used to go “around town declaring “I’m Jewish” as a calling card and picking fights with Parisian anti-Semites,” wrote Tablet contributor Jonathan Wilson, has now (posthumously) joined the “Nine-Figure Club” (members also include Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, Andy Warhol, and Edvard Munch). According to Wilson, “Modigliani started off by exhibiting his painting “The Jewess” in the Salon des Indépendents in 1919 but quickly moved on to languorous nudes and alluring long-necked women.” Clearly, his not-so-tznius pursuits earned him the golden ticket.

With its sale, the painting, the highlight of the Christie’s “Artist’s Muse” auction, became the second most expensive art sale at auction. The winner was Chinese taxi-driver-turned-billionaire-art collector Liu Yiqian, who plans to exhibit the painting in one of his two private museums, according to The New York Times. Yiqian, who called in his bids via telephone from Shanghai, beat out six other eager bidders within nine minutes. His winning bid was only, oh, about $100 million above the last record for the artist.

Modigliani’s fellow creative Jew Roy Lichtenstein also surprised onlookers, with his single-edition “Nurse” (1964) selling for $95.4 million (Roy just barely missed the $100 million mark, remaining in the land of even digits).

Hannah Vaitsblit is an intern at Tablet.