Modigliani nude fetches $68.9M at auction

An alluring nude portrait by Amedeo Modigliani fetched a record-setting price of nearly $70 million US at a New York auction Tuesday night.
Amedeo Modigliani's Nu assis sur un divan (La Belle Romaine) fetched $68.9 million US in New York Tuesday night, setting a new auction record for the artist. ((Sotheby's/Associated Press))

An alluring nude portrait by Amedeo Modigliani fetched a record-setting price of nearly $70 million US at a New York auction Tuesday night.

The artist's Nu assis sur un divan (La Belle Romaine), a canvas from an important series of Modigliani nudes, drew five telephone bidders into a heated competition at the fall sale of impressionist and modern art, Sotheby's said.

An anonymous buyer made the winning bid, with the final price of $68.9 million US (which includes the buyer's premium) soaring well past the auction house's pre-sale estimate of $40 million US.

The sensual work — an intimate portrait of a seductively posed woman, partially draped in a sheet and described by Sotheby's as a "post-coital rendering" — was completed circa 1917 as part of a series of nudes. The works caused a sensation when Modigliani showed them in Paris that year.

Tuesday's sale marked a record for a work by the artist, surpassing the $53 million US benchmark set in Paris in June for a limestone Modigliani bust.

"We are delighted with the results of our sale," said Simon Shaw, head of Sotheby's department of impressionist and modern art in New York.

"It was a great night for Modigliani," he said, adding that the price paid for LaBelle Romaine was more than four times higher than when it last turned up at auction (it was previously sold at Sotheby's in 1999).

Another Modigliani also surpassed its pre-sale estimate. Jeanne Hébuterne (au chapeau), one of the artist's first portraits of his lover, sold for $19.1 million US. It had been tapped to sell for up to $12 million.

Other highlights of the night included one of Claude Monet's famed water lily paintings, which sold for $24.7 million US, and Henri Matisse's Danseuse dans la fauteuil, sol en damier, which sold for $20.8 million.

However, cautious buyers and art dealers meant that the Sotheby's sale failed to reach its overall pre-sale estimate of $266 million US. A quarter of the 61 lots on offer did not sell, including works by Joan Miro and Matisse. The evening drew in $227.6 million in total.

Rival auction house Christie's holds its impressionist and modern sale Wednesday night.

With files from The Associated Press