A once-controversial nude by Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani has become the one of the most expensive artworks ever to sell at auction.
The 1917 painting “Nu couché (sur le côté gauche),” which depicts a naked female figure in repose, sold for $157.2 million at Sotheby’s New York Monday evening, the highest auction price in the establishment’s history.
While the sale fell short of the $450 million record for a painting at auction, set by Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” in 2017, it just exceeded initial estimates. Ahead of the sale, Sotheby’s had predicted bids in excess of $150 million, a new benchmark for the highest pre-auction estimate offered for a work of art.
The previous record estimate of $140 million was set by Christie’s in 2015 for Pablo Picasso’s “Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’),” which went on to sell for $179.4 million.
Part of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, “Nu couché (sur le côté gauche),” went for “nearly six times the painting’s last purchase price in 2003,” according to the auction house’s verified twitter account.
The most expensive Modigliani is another of the painter’s nudes, “Nu Couché” (1917-18), which was bought by the Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian for $170.4 million in 2015. Both artworks form part of a series of 22 reclining nudes painted between 1916 and 1919, only nine of which remain privately owned.
The nudes, in particular those featured in a 1917 exhibition in Paris, stirred significant controversy when they were first unveiled. The infamous show — the only solo exhibition of Modigliani’s work to take place during his lifetime — was reportedly closed within hours, as the artworks were deemed obscene by French police.