Sotheby’s on Tuesday unveiled a painting by Amedeo Modigliani that’s expected to fetch more than $150 million at next month’s auction, making it one of the most expensive ever to go under the hammer.
The painting, called “Nu couche (sur le cote gauche),” or “Reclining nude,” adds to the bonanza of high-priced art expected to come up for sale in May at the major auction houses. The grand total during the two weeks could top $2 billion.
At least a half dozen works of art are expected to sell for more than $75 million next month, which could be the highest ever. It raises questions about whether the feeding frenzy in the art market may a sign of a peaking economy.
Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith told CNBC that the Modigliani — the largest ever painted by the famously troubled artist — will attract bids from around the world.
“This is a masterpiece,” Smith said. “It’s from a crucial artist, the foundation of modernism, and it’s a spectacular painting. It’s one of the greatest pieces that remains in private hands.”
The piece will lead Sotheby’s evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on May 14 and will be the most expensive painting by its estimate in May. Its big rival will be Pablo Picasso’s “Young Girl with a Flower Basket,” being sold at Christie’s as part of the Rockefeller Collection on May 8.
Smith said that he doesn’t see the huge prices at the top as a sign that the market is topping out or about to crash.
“No, it doesn’t worry me,” he said. “There are a lot of people with a lot of money who care about trophies. The supply of great masterpieces isn’t growing, it is actually shrinking.”
The Modigliani being auctioned was sold in 2003 by casino magnate Steve Wynn at Christie’s for $26.9 million. The buyer was Irish horse-breeding billionaire John Magnier. Sotheby’s won’t disclose the name of the current seller, and it’s unclear whether it is Magnier.
But the painting has been on prominent display at the Tate Modern in London as part of an exhibit of Modigliani’s famous nudes.
The $150 million price tag could well be surpassed, if recent history is any guide. A Modigliani nude offered at Christie’s in 2015 went for $170.4 million.
The painting won’t likely become the most expensive ever sold at auction. That title is still held by the Leonardo da Vinci painting that was auctioned by Christie’s last year for $450 million. Ranking second is a Picasso that sold for $179 million in 2015.