Modigliani Nude Sells for US$157m, Becoming the Fourth Most Expensive Painting at Auction

Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), billed as the artwork with the highest estimate ever offered at auction, sold at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale in New York. Yet, the nude painting fell short of expectation as the hammer was knocked down at US$139m, barely passing its US$150 pre-sale estimate after fetching US$157m with premium included and becoming the fourth most expensive painting sold at auction.

Nu couché, measuring nearly 147 centimeters across, is the largest painting of Modigliani’s entire oeuvre. The painting last appeared in the market at Christie’s New York in 2003, sold by Steve Wynn, the casino mogul who founded Wynn Resorts. The painting was sold for US$26.9m to John Magnier (image above).

Amedeo Modigliani

Sotheby’s unveiled the painting in Hong Kong on 24 April, placing it with the highest estimate ever given on a work of art at auction. The painting was also the cover star of Tate Modern’s Modigliani retrospective last year.

The bidding for the Modigliani’s 1917 painting started at 7:45pm (EDT) with an opening bid of US$125m. During the bidding, both bidders in the room and telephone bidders showed a tepid response.

Generally, especially in the case of selling high-value lots, an auctioneer usually specifies the bidder who offers a higher bid. For example, if the bid is offered by a telephone bidder represented by Sotheby’s, the auctioneer will say the name of the representative; if the bid is made by someone in the room, the auctioneer will mention “lady in the front” or “gentleman at the back” to acknowledge the bidder.

Part of the painting

An interesting observation can be seen in this bidding. The auctioneer, Helena Newman, presided it over in a way that was different from the common practice. After starting the bidding at US$125m, the auctioneer further pushed the price up to “128, 130, 132…", one following another merely after a while, without specifying the bidders for each bid.

It was not until the price went up to US$139m that Helena Newman finally said the name of the bidder. The new price was offered by Simon Shaw (image above), Co-Head of Impressionist & Modern Art Worldwide, from the telephone area. Since then, Helena kept looking at the telephone area from her right-hand side, trying to get a higher bid from Patti Wong, Chairman of Sotheby's Asia.

Despite several attempts, Helena failed to receive a higher price from the client represented by Patti Wong. She brought the hammer down at US$139m and sold the painting for US$157m with premium included. The painting set the highest auction price in Sotheby’s history, as well as the record for the fourth most expensive painting sold at auction.

Another noteworthy point is that the painting was guaranteed to sell with an irrevocable bid offered before the sale. The winning bid US$139m is possibly the irrevocable bid that the painting was assured to fetch for the owner.


The Fourth Most Expensive Painting

Amedeo Modigliani. Nu couché (sur le côté gauche)

Lot no.: 18
Created in: 1917
Size: 89.5 x 146.7cm

  • Léopold Zborowski, Paris (acquired from the artist)
  • Jonas Netter, Paris (acquired by 1926)
  • Private Collection, Paris (by descent from the above)
  • Private Collection, United States (acquired from the above and sold: Christie’s, New York, November 4, 2003, lot 29)
  • Acquired at the above sale

Estimate: US$150,000,000
Hammer price: US$139,000,000
Price realized: US$157,159,000

Auction details

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York
Sale: Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale

Lots offered: 46
Sale date: 2018/5/14