Modigliani nude painting fetches record $170.4M in NY

Considered one of his best known works, the 1917-1918 painting nearly created a scandal when it was first exhibited in Paris. It depicts an unknown nude model reclining on a crimson couch and blue cushion.

Courtesy of Christie's Images via AP, File
This detail of an undated image provided by Christie's shows the painting "Reclining Nude," created in 1917 to 1918 by Amedeo Modigliani, that caused a scandal nearly a century ago. The painting went on the auction block and was the highlight of Christie's Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, sale in New York.

A painting by Amedeo Modigliani fetched $170.4 million at an auction Monday, setting a world record for the artist and achieving the second highest price ever garnered for a work of art at auction.

"Reclining Nude" was sold at Christie's in Manhattan after a protracted bidding battle to a buyer who wished to remain anonymous, according to the auction house.

Considered one of his best known works, the 1917-1918 painting nearly created a scandal when it was first exhibited in Paris. It depicts an unknown nude model reclining on a crimson couch and blue cushion.

The previous auction record for a Modigliani was $71 million.

Pablo Picasso's painting "Women of Algiers (Version O)" set the record for the highest sum ever paid for an artwork at auction. It sold for $179.4 million at Christie's in May.

A Roy Lichtenstein painting not seen on the market for 20 years also set a world record for the artist. "Nurse" sold for $95.3 million, almost doubling the previous auction record for the pop artist of $56 million.

Impressionist, modern and contemporary art by well-known artists "do not require a tremendous amount of aesthetic or intellectual risk on the part of the collector," said Sarah Lichtman, assistant professor of design history at Parson School of Design. "They are beautiful paintings — some even exceptional as is the Modigliani — but they are tried and true."

Christie's expects to sell at least $1 billion of art over a series of evening, day and online sales this week.

"There is clearly good appetite among collectors for exceptional works of art offered with appropriate estimates," said Brook Hazelton, president of the Americas for Christie's. "This is a very broad and globally diverse market at the moment, with strong interest in paintings, sculpture and works on paper from the $10,000 level straight up to multimillion-dollar masterpieces at the top end."

Also on sale Monday night were two major works by Paul Gauguin from his Tahiti period.

"Therese," a carved wooden figure of a Tahitian female, brought in a record $30.9 million, topping its presale high estimate of $25 million. The previous auction record for a sculpture by the artist was $11.2 million.

The other Gauguin, "Young Man with a Flower," is a painting of a Tahitian youth wearing a white shirt, loose cravat and a white blossom tucked behind his ear. Christie's said it fetched $13.6 million, just above its low pre-sale estimate of $12 million.

The portrait's first owner was Henri Matisse, who paid 200 francs for it in 1900. Later owners included John Quinn and Lillie Bliss, one of the original founders of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The current auction record for a Gauguin painting is $40.3 million.

Among other highlights of "The Artist's Muse" sale is Pablo Picasso's "Man with a Sword," a self-portrait of the artist as a musketeer created in 1969. It sold for $22.5 million. Christie's said interest in Picasso's late period musketeer portraits has grown dramatically in recent years.

Also of interest were two works by Lucian Freud.

"Naked Portrait on a Red Sofa" is a portrait of the artist's daughter, the fashion designer Bella Freud. Its pre-sale estimate was $20 million to $30 million, but it failed to sell Monday night. One of a series of portraits of his daughters, it is the first time it was offered at auction.

On Tuesday, Christie's is offering Freud's "Brigadier," a portrait of Andrew Parker Bowles, the former husband of Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the wife of Prince Charles. It was on view at the 2012 retrospective of the artist at the National Portrait Gallery in London and portrays the career soldier wearing his sumptuous army brigadier uniform. It's estimated to sell for around $30 million.

Tuesday's post-war and contemporary art sale also has a mammoth bronze "Spider" sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, estimated at $25 million to $35 million. If realized, that price would exceed the artist's current auction record of $10.7 million and set a record for a sculpture by a female artist.

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