Amedeo Modigliani, the Italian painter and sculptor, died young and led a rather gloomy existence. His birth coincided with the collapse of his father’s once-thriving business enterprises, and health problems plagued him from a young age. At 35 years old, he passed away from tubercular meningitis.
It was in this state of financial and physical frailty, during the later stages of his illness, that Modigliani painted “Nu couché,” — in English, “Reclining Nude.” The work was one of a series of several dozen nudes that were shown during the only solo exhibition of the artist’s life, an occasion made notorious by the discussions it raised over obscenity in artwork. (So turbulent was the public reception that police officers had the paintings removed from a street-front window display.)
The bold, early 20th century piece was sold for $170.4 million at Christie’s Monday night, joining a roster of just nine other artworks that have garnered over $100 million in sales, according to the New York Times. Christie’s told reporters that it’s the second-highest price ever recorded for artwork sold at auction.
First place in that regard belongs to Pablo Picasso’s “Women of Algiers (Version O)”, which sold for $179.4 million at Christie’s in May of this year.
The “Reclining Nude” sale was reportedly made at the end of a “frantic nine-minute bidding war” between seven buyers, with a Chinese buyer on the phone ultimately securing the piece.
The 23 by 36 inch oil painting features a female nude model, identity unknown, reclining over a red couch with blue curtains. Her lipsticked mouth is sensually pursed, her dark lids shut.
Christie’s writes of the piece on its Web site: “It was, by all accounts, the product of several hours of intense, feverish work painting ‘orgasmically’, according to the painter Tsuguharu Foujita, in a small, poorly furnished room, alone with his model, two chairs, a couch and a bottle of brandy during what was probably the worst year of the Great War.”
“There’s something voyeuristic and yet wonderfully frank about it,” the Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan wrote of “Reclining Nude” in 2005.
Also sold at the auction Monday, the Associated Press reports, was Roy Lichtenstein’s “Nurse,” which went for $95.3 million. This is the highest price a work by the pop artist has reaped at auction; previously, his auction record had been just over half that number at $56 million.
The comic-book style painting’s titular subject is a blonde woman with her mouth agape and light blue eyes looking off to the right. She wears a starched white hat and white collar, two markers of her profession.
Like Modigliani’s reclining model, Lichtenstein’s nurse strikes the balance between cutting poise and soft sensuality. The artwork’s accompanying notes remark that “Lichtenstein has managed to create an image of a nurse that uncomfortably straddles the domains of sexual fantasy and schlock-horror and in doing so has made it appear all the more raw, and more powerfully subversive than the harmless innocence of its original context.”