Sale to Liu Yiqian, former taxi driver who is one of China’s most ostentatious billionaires, makes painting the second most expensive ever sold at action
Tuesday 10 November 2015
A Chinese taxi driver turned billionaire art collector has paid a record-breaking $170m (£113m) for a painting of a nude woman by Amedeo Modigliani at an auction in New York.
Reclining Nude was sold at Christie’s on Monday after a protracted, nine-minute bidding battle, eventually going to Liu Yiqian, who has built a reputation as one of China’s most ostentatious billionaires.
The 1917-1918 painting is considered one of Modigliani’s best-known works and nearly created a scandal when it was first exhibited in Paris. Interest from five buyers pushed the price for Nu Couché far above the previous $71m record auction price for the Italian artist.
The sale also made the painting the second most expensive artwork ever sold at auction and is one of only 10 pieces of art to sell for a nine-figure sum. Nu Couché sold just short of the auction industry’s current overall titleholder, Pablo Picasso’s Women of Algiers (Version O), which sold at Christie’s in May for nearly $180m.
The Chinese collector told the New York Times he planned to exhibit the work in one of the two private museums he owns in Shanghai.
“We are planning to exhibit it for the museum’s fifth anniversary,” Liu said. “It will be an opportunity for Chinese art lovers to see good artworks without having to leave the country, which is one of the main reasons why we founded the museums.”
Liu, 52, may be one of China’s most profligate art collectors but he boasts a classic rags-to-riches story. Having dropped out of school, he started his professional life selling handbags on the street and then drove a taxi. He later went on to make billions on the Chinese stock market in the 1980s and 90s, trading in real estate and pharmaceuticals.
According to the 2015 Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Liu is worth at least $1.5bn.
It is estimated the collector has spent more than $100m on his collection just in the past year. His taste in art ranges from ancient Chinese scrolls and imperial ceramics to contemporary western artists such as Jeff Koons and has so far filled his two museums with more than 2,300 pieces of art. At an auction at Christie’s in Hong Kong in 2014, he bought a 15th-century silk hanging for $45m, setting a new international record for the auction house.
Liu and his wife Wang Wei have raised eyebrows in China for their extravagant spending, particularly in light of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption in recent years. He was the subject of a recent online scandal after a photograph of him drinking tea out of an antique bowl he had recently purchased for $36m went viral on the internet.
Liu has openly spoken of his ambitions to create a Chinese museum that could rival the Guggenheim or MoMA in New York but has admitted that he has no idea how much his 2,300-strong collection is worth.
In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this year, he said: “It must be a very, very huge figure, but I don’t give it much thought, because I won’t be selling the collection.
“I don’t care about the value, nor do I care about the money I spent buying it in the first place.”
Reclining Nude will be the most expensive piece in Liu’s collection. It had formerly belonged to art historian Laura Mattioli Rossi, daughter of acclaimed Italian collector Gianni Mattioli, and had belonged to the Mattioli family for six decades.
The nine-figure sum is also a far cry from the price paid for Modigliani’s paintings in the Italian artist’s short lifetime. In 1918, the struggling painter tried to sell the whole contents of his studio for just £100 ($150) but apparently could never find a buyer.