Modigliani joins the US$100m club

Nov 11th, 2015 | By | Category: Journal

Amadeo Modigliani’s ‘Reclining Nude,’ or ‘Nu Couche,’ sold on Monday at Christie’s for US$170m launching Modigliani into the US$100m club, which includes Picasso, Bacon and Giacometti (all three times), Munch and Warhol.

Modigliani's 'Reclining Nude' sold for US$170m at Christie's.

Modigliani’s ‘Reclining Nude’ sold for US$170m at Christie’s.

The painting depicts an attractive and languid nude lying down completely at ease enjoying the flattering intensity of the artist’s gaze and the attention of a good-looking man. Modigliani, originally from Tuscany, but of Italian, French and Jewish ancestry, was well known among the girls of Montparnasse in the early 20th century. “Women, struck by his great beauty, pined with love for him. Foreigners, simple girls. But Modi dropped them all before they could get attached (Francis Carco).”

Amadeo Modigliani in his Paris Studio circa 1915

Amadeo Modigliani in his Paris Studio circa 1915

Later the opium, cocaine, hashish, ether and alcohol destroyed his style and good looks. Thora Klinckowstrom, a young Swedish woman wrote, “I met Modigliani at the Café Rotunde in October 1919. He was very handsome and romantic. Nils (Dardel) told me that before the war Modigliani had a magnificent beauty, but that now he had lost it through debauchery and alcohol.”

The painting is about sex and the woman is clearly a lover of the artist. Modigliani painted some thirty of these nudes there was no dividing line between his artistic and his sex life. Contemporary commentators who knew him such as Warnod, Latourrettes and Carco all said the artist could not resist anything including women, drugs and alcohol. Modigliani combined knowledge of the Italian Renaissance that he brought with him to Paris from his native Tuscany, with Modernist techniques being explored by neighbours such as Picasso, Rivera, Lipchitz and Soutine. Despite the explicit nature of his nudes, Modigliani had a knack of keeping his art from descending into soft porn. “His paintings are marked by great distinction. Crudity, banality, vulgarity are completely excluded (Maurice de Vlaminck).”

That the myth of the aristocratic, charming, hopeless, generous, good-looking, drug addicted, alcohol dependent, struggling artist who died young has added to his legend, and the value of his art, cannot be doubted. But the art is superb, both the paintings and the sculpture.  That his work has now fetched such high prices would have amazed to the artist who achieved little success in his brief life (he died in 1920 at the age of 35 three years after painting ‘Reclining Nude.’)

In the winter of 1918 and 1919, a desperate Modigliani tried to sell the entire contents of his studio (probably including this ‘Reclining Nude)’ to the British writers Sacheverell and Osbert Sitwell for US$300. The aristocratic brothers couldn’t raise the cash…and missed a deal of a lifetime.

On Monday the painting was bought by the Chinese Billionaire Liu Yiquan who started life as a taxi driver but has subsequently built a considerable fortune in real estate and pharmaceuticals. Liu has been making some expensive acquisitions spending close to US$300m on art since the beginning of 2014. He bought a small Ming Dynasty cup for US$36.3m and used 24 swipes of his American Express card to pay for it. He shocked most of China apparently by then drinking tea out of the cup. He also bought a 600-year-old Tibetan embroidered tapestry, or thanga, for US$45m.

Collectors Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei.

Collectors Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei.

On the Tuesday after the sale Liu, speaking on the telephone to the New York Times, said he planned to bring the work back to Shanghai where he and his wife have 2 private museums. Liu said, “We are planning to exhibit it for the museums’ fifth anniversary….It will be an opportunity for Chinese Art Lovers to see good artworks without having to leave the country, which is one of the main reasons why we have founded the museums.” With his bid of US$170m Mr Liu exceeded the previous record for Modigliani by US$100m so it was a brave acquisition.

Mr Liu was reassured by previous worldwide interest in Modigliani’s work saying, “Modigliani’s works already have pretty established value on the market. This work is relatively nice compared to his other nude paintings. And his nude paintings have been collected by some of the world’s top museums.” When asked if he was going to pay for the painting with his American Express Card, as he had with both the cup and the tapestry Mr Liu demurred saying, “The payment will be carried out in accordance with Christie’s guidelines.”

When this painting was executed in 1917 the world was in the throes of WWI. While Modigliani painted he could hear the guns firing in the trenches that were only a hundred miles away. While young men were dying in terrible circumstances, and with the artist excused active service due to ill-health, Modigliani lost himself in a guilt-laden downward spiral of sex, drugs, and alcohol. He tried to show that he was not part of the hatred and violence of WWI in the only way he knew how and created a modern masterpiece that is worth every dollar that Mr Liu spent on it. These nudes, seductive, beautiful, intimate and immediate, are a cry for help, a statement of defiance and a celebration of the female form.



Tags: art market, Liu Yiquan and Wang Wei, Modigliani Nu Couche, Modigliani's Reclining Nude, World record price for Modigliani

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