May 15, 2018 / 3:16 AM / 12 days ago

Modigliani nude fetches $157 million at N.Y. auction

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A nude portrait by Amedeo Modigliani sold for $157.2 million at Sotheby’s on Monday, achieving the 4th-highest price for any work of art at auction but failing to set a new record for the artist.

Sotheby’s had estimated “Nu couché (sur le côté gauche)” to sell for in excess of $150 million, which made the 1917 oil painting the highest-estimated work of art in auction history.

But in merely meeting expectations and failing to set a record even for a Modigliani, the canvas fell short of a handful of recently auctioned trophy works, most notably Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” which soared to $450.3 million at rival Christie’s in November after several top-tier collectors competed furiously.

That work carried a pre-sale estimate of about $100 million.

Sotheby’s was quick to note, while the auction was still live, that “Nu couché” had achieved the highest price of any work in the 274-year-old auction house’s history.

And in a sign of soaring prices at the art market’s highest echelons, the same work sold in 2003 for $27 million.

But it could not be denied that only a handful of collectors at most bid for the work, which fell short of the $170.4 million record for a Modigliani set in 2015.

Officials were relegated to characterizing the sale as “measured,” a tacit admission that it was devoid of the free-spending frenzy that has marked recent auctions at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

“It was not an exuberant room,” Simon Shaw, co-head of Impressionist and modern art, told Reuters afterward. But he added that “it was an ordered, efficient sale which achieved a total within its estimated range.”

Indeed the auction took in $318.3 million, just beating the $307.4 million low pre-sale estimate. Of the 45 lots on offer, 71 percent found buyers.

Other highlights included Pablo Picasso’s “Le Repos,” which achieved $36.9 million and beat its high estimate of $35 million, and Claude Monet’s “Matinee sur la Seine,” which fetched $20.55 million, at the low end of the $18 million to $25 million estimate.

Georgia O’Keefe’s “Lake George with White Birch” soared to $11.3 million, or nearly twice the high estimate, but another Picasso, “Femme au chien” estimated at $12 million to $18 million, failed to sell when no bids exceeded $11 million.

The spring auctions continue on Tuesday when Christie’s holds its Impressionist and modern art sale.

Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby's Asia, stands next to Amedeo Modigliani's "Nu couche", expected to fetch over $150 million (USD) in the New York auction in May, during a preview in Hong Kong, China April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Venus Wu

Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Darren Schuettler

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