Led by a $157 Million Modigliani, Sotheby’s Otherwise Tepid Impressionist Sale Makes $318 Million

 May 14, 2018

Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern art evening sale on May 14, 2018
Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern art evening sale on May 14, 2018. / Photo: Eileen Kinsella / artnet News


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“The much-anticipated Modigliani became the fourth most expensive work ever sold at auction—even if the rest of the sale felt sleepy.” – reported by artnet News

Sotheby’s evening sale of Impressionist and Modern art was a study in contrasts. The auction saw a nude by Modigliani become the fourth most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. Despite the nine-figure sale, however, the evening was—somehow—a muted affair.

All told, the evening generated $318.3 million, toward the low end of its pre-sale estimate of $307.4 million to $378.1 million. (Final prices, unless noted, include premiums; pre-sale estimates do not.)

The top lot of the night—and one of the most buzzed-about this season—was Amedeo Modigliani‘s large nude Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) (1917), which carried a $150 million estimate, the most expensive ever placed on a single work at auction. It also had an irrevocable, or third-party, bid placed in advance. The work sold for a premium-inclusive price of $157 million after sparse bidding.

All told, the evening made considerably more than the $173 million realized at the equivalent sale last spring, which was marred by the last-minute withdrawal of a star lot. But the salesroom failed to ignite the fireworks felt during last week’s marquee Rockefeller sale at Christie’s.

Though the auction on the whole delivered a healthy total and the Modigliani also became the most expensive work of art ever sold at Sotheby’s, the star lot failed to meet its low estimate and numerous other works were bought in or sold for below estimate, even with their premiums. Of 45 lots on offer, 32, or 71 percent were sold.

Amedeo Modigliani - Nu couché

Amedeo Modigliani, Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) (1917). / Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s

As much as it is possible to say that a nine-figure artwork had a lackluster performance, this one did. Auctioneer Helena Newman opened the bidding at $125 million but there did not appear to be immediate demand. Newman paused repeatedly—at $135 million and again at $138 million and $139 million—but to no avail. Eventually, the head of the Impressionist and Modern department, Simon Shaw, bumped the price up to a final bid of $139 million.

Sources said the work sold to the third-party guarantor. At a post-auction press conference, Shaw said the house could not comment on the identity of the buyer.

The painting—the largest ever made by Modigliani—was consigned by Irish collector and horse breeder John Magnier, who paid $26.9 million for it in 2003. (At the time, it was believed to have been consigned by casino mogul Steve Wynn.) Tonight’s price marks a gain for Magnier of $130.3 million, or 484 percent. But the work failed to surpass Modigliani’s own record of $170.4 million, set at Christie’s in 2015.

Originally published by Eileen Kinsella at artnet News

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