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Chief executive of Sotheby’s Hong Kong Kevin Ching unveils Nu Couche (sur le côté gauche), a 1917 painting by 20th-century Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, ahead of its auction in New York on May 14. Photo: Nora Tam

Modigliani nude with record estimate unveiled in Hong Kong ahead of auction

A 1917 painting of a female nude by Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani is expected to fetch more than US$150 million in upcoming New York auction 


Sotheby’s unveiled a nude portrait by Amedeo Modigliani with great fanfare in Hong Kong to drum up interest among Asian collectors ahead of its auction in New York on May 14. 

Nu Couche (sur le côté gauche), recently shown in a Modigliani exhibition at Britain’s Tate Modern, is expected to fetch no less than US$150 million excluding fees, a record estimate for a painting ahead of its auction.

Nu Couche (sur le côté gauche) was last sold by casino magnate Steve Wynn in 2003. Photo: Nora Tam
Anticipation of Asian interest in this piece is tied to the  rise in demand for Western art in recent years. The current record for a Modigliani was set in 2015, when Chinese collector  Liu Yiqian paid US$170.4 million for another Modigliani reclining nude, Nu Couche (1917-18), in 2015. 

Sotheby’s Nu Couche (sur le côté gauche) features a woman in a more demure pose than the outstretched, confident reclining nude that Liu took home. She is naked in bed with her back to the viewer, propped up on her left arm and looks over her shoulder with a hint of reproach.

It was last sold by Las Vegas magnate Steve Wynn for US$26.9 million in 2003 at a Christie’s auction in New York. 

The painting is expected to fetch no less than US$150 million excluding fees. Photo: Nora Tam
Liu’s aggressive bidding in 2015 helped place the early 20th-century Italian painter in the same league as Pablo Picasso, whose Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) was the most expensive painting ever auctioned (it was sold for US$179.3 million at Christie’s New York in 2015) until the US$450 million sale of  Leonardo da Vinci’s  Salvator Mundi last year. The record-breaking portrait of Jesus was estimated at Just US$100 million before its sale.
Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci is now the most expensive painting ever auctioned. Photo: Nora Tam

But Modigliani, who died at the age of 35, left a legacy of muddled provenance. It was discovered that most of the paintings on show at a Modigliani exhibition in Genoa last year were fakes, for example, and art market experts are generally wary of paintings that were not included in earlier catalogues. 

The auction house didn’t stint on hyperbole before it revealed the piece, painted in 1917, on Tuesday. The “secret” and “seminal” event, the unveiling of a “defining masterpiece”, was “worth waiting for”, its invitation promised. The painting and other highlights from the New York sales will be on view to the public at Sothebys’s Hong Kong gallery at 5/F One Pacific Place on April 25 and 26.