After a nine-minute battle, a Chinese buyer on the phone beat out four others to purchase Amedeo Modigliani's "Nu Couché" for a cool $170.4 million during Christie's "Artist's Muse" auction on Monday.
This is the second highest price paid for an artwork at auction, a fact that would probably shock Modigliani, who died at 35 in 1920 of tuberculosis; in the winter of 1918-19, seriously in need of money, Modigliani offered to sell everything in his Paris studio (probably including "Nu Couché") to writers Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell for £100 ($300 then, about $4,700 today). The brothers were unable to come up with the funding.
A nude, "Nu Couché" was painted between 1917 and 1918, and with the sale, Modigliani joins the ranks of Picasso, Giacometti, Warhol, and Munch, all artists who have had pieces bring in more than $100 million at auction, The New York Times reports. Although considered scandalous when painted, Modigliani's nudes are now extremely popular in the art world, and Ana Maria Celis, a Christie's specialist in Post-War and Contemporary Art, said "Nu Couché" especially "leaps off the page as the most vibrant, sexual, lyrical of the catalog raisonné."
"Nu Couché" wasn't the only big sale on Monday; Roy Lichtenstein's 1964 pop art work "Nurse" sold for more than $95.3 million, above the estimate of $80 million. "Nurse" was a hot ticket item on Sunday during an event you and I will never attend, the "champagne and canapé" preview, with countless guests snapping pictures in front of the piece. There was also some sniping, with a few art insiders saying Christie's was playing fast and loose with the "Muse" theme, since the auction also included a 1981 Andy Warhol silkscreen painting called "Gun." "A Warhol 'Gun' painting?" New York dealer Henry Zimet scoffed to the Times. "How was that his muse? But if they can get away with it, good luck to them."