Modigliani painting fetches record $157m at auction.
When it was first shown in 1917, Modigliani’s Nu couche (sur le cote gauche) was considered so offensive that police shut the exhibition down.
Just over a century later, the painting of the defiant nude woman has sold for $157.2m (£115m) at an auction in New York City. The figure paid for the work was $139m but the buyer’s premium brought the total price up to $157.2m.
The painting, which is Modigliani’s largest at 147cm wide, was the highlight of the auction of impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s on Monday evening.
It had the highest pre-auction estimate – $150m (£110m).
Simon Shaw, co-head of impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s, said before the sale that the painting was rooted in tradition but also reflected the changing status of women during World War One.
He said: “This is a nude of a very self-possessed, sexually confident woman who is not looking out from a distance.
“She’s absolutely meeting our gaze.”
Also included in the auction were works by Picasso, Monet, Joan Miro and Edvard Munch.
The previous owner, based in the US, had bought the Modigliani in 2003 for $26.9m (£19.8m) and was probably encouraged after another reclining nude from the series sold at auction for $170.4m (£125.6m) in 2015.
Italian-born Modigliani painted 22 reclining nudes and 13 seated nudes between 1916 and 1919, most of them in 1917.
Many were shown at the gallery of Parisian dealer Berthe Weill that year, with a number of the nudes hung in the window or, at least, visible through the glass.
According to Sotheby’s, it caused such a stir that crowds had gathered by the time the exhibition opened.
Officers at the police station – across the road from the gallery – noticed the commotion and one of them walked across to ask that some of the paintings be removed, as they were considered indecent.
Weill refused and was taken to the police station.
The show was closed, with Modigliani’s dealer Leopold Zborowski having sold just two drawings at 30 francs each.
He is, however, listed as the first owner of the nude painting sold in New York on Monday.
As for Modigliani, the 1917 exhibition was his first and only solo exhibition. He died three years later.
— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) May 14, 2018