Why Modigliani's Nu Couche just auctioned for $170.4m

Modigliani's Nu Couche sold for $170.4m at Christie's Artist's Muse sale in New York last night.

That is the second highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction, behind Picasso's Les Femmes d'Alger (Version 'O'), which made $179.4m in May.

Modigliani record
 Art critics dismissed Modigliani during his lifetime - not so today

It is an exceptional price for an artist whose pieces had "only" achieved up to $70.7m previously.

Why the vast uptick? Is Nu Couche twice as good at Modigliani's Tete sculpture that set the $70.7m figure in November last year? Is it twice as good as Modigliani's previous high mark for a painting, achieved by a nude at $68.9m in 2010?

It is not.

Last night's sale of the 1917-1918 work reveals two things:

One. A surging demand for Modigliani's striking nudes - they are fast becoming trophy pieces in the homes of the world's rich elite. The Wall Street Journal reports the buyer is billionaire Chinese businessman Liu Yiqian.

Two. The seemingly unstoppable rise in demand for contemporary and modern pieces by the biggest painters and sculptors in the art world.

That Modigliani (1884-1920) can be considered a big name would shock him. Unheralded during his lifetime, he once failed to sell his entire studio of works for today's equivalent of $5,000.

Lichtenstein Nurse Christies
Lichtenstein's Nurse has set a new record for the artist

Roy Lichtenstein's Nurse sold for $95.4m at Christie's last night, a new record for the artist. The 1964 piece had last sold for $1.7m in 1995 - a rise in value of 22.3% a year.

"This [auction] demonstrates a very dynamic market for the Masterpiece level," Christie's global chairman of post-war and contemporary art, Brett Gorvy, told the New York Times, following the sale.

"The mood is about confidence. There's more than enough liquidity in the market."

Christie's and Sotheby's will be offering further high profile contemporary and modern works in New York throughout the week. We will bring you the full details.

Please sign up to our free newsletter to receive exciting news about art and photography auctions.


Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock