Sotheby’s will auction Amedeo Modigliani’s 1917 painting Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) at its May Impressionist and modern art evening sale in New York. The work is estimated to sell for more than $150 million, and even before it hits the block, it has already broken a record: according to Sotheby’s, the estimate is the highest one ever placed on a work at auction.
The last time a Modigliani work of this caliber hit the auction block was in 2015, when the artist’s painting Nu couché (1917–18) sold for $170.4 million at Christie’s in New York, making it the second-highest price ever realized for a work sold at auction at the time. (The work had been estimated at $100 million.) The work’s buyer was revealed as Liu Yiqian, the ARTnews “Top 200” collector who made his fortune on the Chinese stock market.
Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), the upcoming lot, was acquired by its present owner, who was not named in a release, for $26.9 million in 2003; if it sells at its estimate, it will have more than quintupled that number.
The Modigliani canvas is from his prized series of nude paintings, produced between 1916 and 1919. At the behest of the French dealer Léopold Zborowski, some were first shown, in 1917, at Berthe Weill’s gallery in Paris, where they attracted critical attention—and scandal. Because such a large crowd had assembled outside the gallery, the police arrived at the show (which proved to be Modigliani’s first and last one-man show during his lifetime) and demanded that it be shut down. Weill refused, yet the police closed the show only two days later, at which point just two drawings had sold.
“This painting reimagines the nude for the modern era,” Simon Shaw, the co-head worldwide of Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art department, said in a statement. “Modigliani depicted his models as confident and self-possessed in their sexuality. . . . 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.”
Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) was recently on view at Tate Modern in London, which recently held a retrospective for the Italian-born artist. Similar examples of the 22 reclining nudes for the 1916–19 series are held in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Long Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Courtauld Gallery in London, among other institutions.
Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) will be auctioned at Sotheby’s on May 14. Other notable lots will include Pablo Picasso’s painting Le Repos (1932, estimated at $25–35 million), Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture Le Chat (1951/55, $20–30 million), and Claude Monet’s painting Matinée sur la Seine (1896, $18–25 million).