A 1917 painting by Amedeo Modigliani sold for $157.2 million at Sotheby’s in New York on May 14. The work, titled Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), is a portrait of a nude model glancing over her shoulder. According to ARTnews, this piece was the highest-priced lot in Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art sale. It also broke a record for highest auction price in Sotheby’s history.
The auction record for Modigliani was set in 2015, when Chinese collector Liu Yiqian purchased Nu couché (1917–18) for $170.4 million at Christie’s in New York. The piece sold well above its $100 million appraisal.
Bidding for Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) started at $125 million. The first (and winning) bid came from a caller who was on the phone with Simon Shaw, co-head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art worldwide department. The identity of this caller has yet to be released.
The value of the piece is in large part derived from its historical significance. Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) is part of a series of nude paintings produced by the artist between 1916 and 1919. The pieces caused quite an uproar they first debuted at Berthe Weill’s gallery in Paris. Concerned by the commotion that the exhibition had attracted, police decided to shut down the show after just two days. Only two drawings were sold. It was Modigliani’s first and only one-man exhibition.
Sotheby’s used this as a selling point leading up to the auction of the piece. In a prepared statement, Sotheby’s representative Simon Shaw said, “Together these pictures signal a watershed in perhaps the greatest tradition in art—there is the nude before Modigliani, and there is the nude after Modigliani.”
Indeed, art critics agree that Modigliani’s work represents a paradigmatic shift in art history. For collectors, it’s the ultimate treasure.