Interview with Sotheby’s Representatives on Record-Setting Modigliani’s Nude Painting

Sotheby’s has recently revealed in Hong Kong a blockbuster lot from its Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale in New York. The record-setting masterpiece, Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), carries the highest estimate ever placed on a work of art at auction. Exhibited at the latest Modigliani retrospective at Tate Modern, the painting is expected to sell for excess of US$150m. The Value talked to the representatives from Sotheby's on the latest market trend for Western artwork, as well as the story behind this 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

Kevin Ching, Chief Executive Officer of Sotheby’s Asia

Q: Why was the unveiling held in Hong Kong?
Ching: Traditionally, most unveiling events of Western paintings are held in New York on London. But in recent years, we have seen growing interest for Western paintings in Asia, especially from Chinese collectors and Hong Kong collectors. And they have higher purchasing power. So unveiling in Hong Kong is to encourage Asian collectors, as well as to show the importance Sotheby’s has placed in the Asian market. 

Brooke Lampley, Vice Chairman of Sotheby’s Fine Arts Division

Q: What’s so special about this painting?

Lampley: This is the best in a series of 22 reclining nudes that Modigliani painted between 1917 and 1919. It’s the largest painting he has ever painted in his career. It’s also the only one of the work that contains the entire female figure within a canvas.

Q: How does it differ from other Modigliani’s paintings?

Lampley: Modigliani was fundamentally a portraitist and most of his works are figurative. They are often portraits of people he knew or his lovers. But this is a series of work that he focused exclusively on the nudes. He did a series of upright nudes, which are generally not felt to be as wholly satisfying.

Lampley: This series of reclining nudes are the zenith in his entire production in his career. They are the most highly regarded works that Modigliani ever produced. When they were first exhibited, they stopped traffic. And the police shut down the exhibition because they were considered so scandalous.


Modigliani's Nu Couché sold for US$170.4m at Christie's in 2015. It is now in the collection of Long Museum in Shanghai. 

Q: Why is the painting given the highest estimate ever?

Lampley: We have estimated it to sell in excess of US$150m. That based largely on another work from this series, which was sold in November 2015 by Christie’s for US$170.4m. It was estimated at the time at US$100m. There was a great opportunity for a competition and the magic at auction which drove it to a high final price. We expect a similar result here.

Q: Is there a growing appetite for Western painting from Asian collectors?

Ching: Asian collectors are interested in impressionist, modern and contemporary art. In terms of sales, of the top 10 most expensive paintings at our Impressionist sale New York last November, five of them were bought by Asian collectors. In 2017, from the spending of Sotheby’s Asian collectors across the globe, 40% were spent on Western works of art.

Washington|National Gallery of Art|Painted in 1917

New York|Museum of Modern Art|Painted in 1919

Q: Is there any similar example in museums or private hands?

Lampley: Most of work from the 22 reclining nudes are in museums. Many of them are in the United States. There are two in the National Gallery of Art in DC, one in the Metropolitan Museum, one in MoMa, one in Guggenheim. The vast majority of the work in this series are in famous public collections.

Q: Why is it presented around the same time as the Rockefeller sales?

Lampley: The reason for bringing this work to auction right now is the market for Modigliani has been strong and rising year on year. He is one of only three artists who have broken the US$150m mark at auction. The other two are Picasso and Da Vinci.

Amedeo Modigliani 

Lampley: As for how it is related to Rockefeller, I think the market is very strong and Rockefeller sales will contribute to that so we expect strong results for that auction as well. That will continue to generate momentum. Additionally, there is no Modigliani in the Rockefeller collection. There is nothing like this painting on offer in the sale week.

Auction details
Auction house: Sotheby's New York
Sale: Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale
Auction: 2018/5/14|7pm