DASH OF ART – Modigliani: Le maudit

$ 170 million for a nude

You inherited 170 million dollars and you have no idea on how to spend them? Let us give you some advices.

You can purchase a sixteenth century castle, a villa on the Côte d’Azur in France, a penthouse in Manhattan, a jet, a 100-carat diamond, a Caribbean island, a Rolls Royce Phantom Coupé, a Ferrari FF, a Porsche 918 Spyder…

You know what cannot buy?? “Nu couché” by Amedeo Modigliani, as this famous painting was recently purchased by Liu Yiqian for the moderate sum of 170 million dollars. Doubtfully will he sell it to you for the same amount…

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Nu CouchéAmedeo Modigliani

According to the press, the auction organized by Christie’s at Rockefeller Plaza in New York (Lot 8 A, Sale 3789), November 10, 2015 did not last more than nine minutes. The Chinese tycoon has beaten the other five contenders making the highest offer for the privilege of owning this canvas (23 5/8 x 36 ¼ in. – 59.9 x 92 cm.).

According to Robin Pogrebin and Scott Reyburn (New York Times):

The seller of the Modígliani, Laura Mattioli Rossi, the daughter of the Italian collector Gianni Mattioli, was guaranteed at least a $100 million minimum price. Just before the sale, Christie’s announced that a third party had stepped forward to share the risk — as well as any proceeds above the guaranteed price”.

Now we have to hope for an upcoming conference in Shanghai, or planning a holiday in China, in order to admire the extraordinary masterpiece, also known as ‘Naked red, whose beauty will be admired in one of the two museums founded by Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei (Long Museum Pudong and the Bund West Long Museum), designed by Chinese architects Zhong Song and Liu Yichun. Traditional Chinese masterpieces, revolutionary, modern and contemporary art are also exhibited.

Amedeo Clemente Modígliani (Livorno, 1884 – Paris, 1920) is also known by the nickname Modí, that is the diminutive of his name and the Italianization of the French word ‘maudit’ (‘damned’). For his family and closest friends he was simply Dedo (Tuscan diminutive for Amedeo).

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Modí has gone from vagabonding in absolute obscurity to being a living legend. From unknown painter to myth, in the space of a few years, he was deemed as an undisputed maestro in his discipline. Was it because of the extraordinary nature and uniqueness of his art or in reason of the provocative charm of his nudes, the profligacy of his life (his love for the bottle was proverbial), the perennial difficulty finding buyers, or the fact that he died at the young age of 35 years and that his partner killed himself the day after his disappearance?

Modí has been ignored in life and celebrated after death. To pay for his funeral, 1340 francs, the painter Moïse Kisling was forced to promote a collection among his friends, artists and models. Certainly none of them could have imagined that a century later, La Belle Romaine would have been sold for $ 69 million and Nu couché for $ 170 million.

Colossal sums for a painter who used to bargain pencil portraits, signing Modigliani dessins à boire (drawings drink), in exchange for a drink. Modigliani was the son of Jewish parents, Italian dad, Flaminio, and French mother, Eugénie Garsin. At his birth, the family were living moments of great difficulty due to the financial disarray of their agricultural and mining societies. At the age of 16, Amedeo contracted tuberculosis and was forced to abandon his studies. Since childhood he showed great interest in art, creating countless sketches and portraits; in 1902 he joined the Free School of Nude in Florence, then attended the Institute for the Fine Arts in Venice that he left for Paris to settle in Montmartre, destination of pauper artists. There, Modigliani developed a unique style, original and fast. Allegedly only two sessions were enough to complete a portrait not to be ever retouched.

In 1909, he met the Romanian sculptor, Constantin Brancusi, and went to work in his studio, where he made stone sculptures. He nevertheless left few years later perhaps for health reasons. In fact, the dust may have damaged his already precarious physical condition.

In 1910, Modí had a love story with the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, then it was the turn of the English writer Beatrice Hastings. Amedeo was loved by women because he was timid, introvert, but nonetheless charming. When he was sober, ça va sans dire… Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 23.46.07

But the great love of his life was Jeanne Hebuterne, called Noix de coco (coconut) for her long brown hair and white skin. Jeanne was beautiful, very beautiful, she was a model, but wanted to become a painter and for this reason attended the Académie Colarossi. The two met at the Rotonde, the famous brasserie in Montparnasse, frequented by artists and intellectuals. He was 33 years old, she was 19. He was already very ill and had a good reputation as “tombeur de femme” and “maudit painter“, she was still pretty much a little girl with two big green eyes (which will become blue in the Modígliani’ s paintings), dreamy, sad and with a great love for painting. From their union came to the world a girl.

The stormy romance with Jeanne lasted a lifetime. In Paris, they painted the portrait of each other, between violent quarrels, hangovers and pacifications. But the disease soon reached its climax. One morning in January 1920, the body of Modigliani still embracing Jeanne, once again nine months pregnant, was discovered by a tenant. Despite the admission to Hôpital de la Charité Amedeo, he died on January 24. The next day Jeanne threw herself from a window, she was 22 years old. Modigliani was buried in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Jeanne was interred in the cemetery of Bagneux. Only since 1930, Amedeo and Jeanne rest together.

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Modí has spent a lifetime painting nudes and portraits of his artist friends (Chaim Soutine, Moise Kisling, Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Juan Gris, Max Jacob and Jean Cocteau), his models and lovers.

Modigliani’s first solo exhibition, organized by the Polish poet and art dealer, Léopold Zborowski, was held at the Galerie Berthe Weil, 50 rue Taitbout. The scandal provoked by his nudes, four out of thirty-two paintings on display (including the Nu couché), provoked the reaction of the police chief who ordered their removal. The show ended with no sale.

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The nudes and portraits have always been the great passion of Modigliani. The Nu souffrant, a canvas ‘almost monochromatic’ (1908) depicts a woman portrait going from her head to her knees. The young girl has her head turned backwards, she is slim, almost skeletal. Her face expresses suffering and does not reveal sensuality.

The case of the Nu couché les bras croisés derrière la tête (1917) is different. Here, the pain seems to give way to melancholy and the woman expresses a subtle sensuality. Finally, in Nu couche (1917-18), the melancholy disappears and the sensuality gives way to a refined eroticism. The originality of the canvas is given: from the cutting of the picture, where the woman occupies almost the entire surface; the position of the model, almost unnatural and sideways; from the choice of background colors; from the light blue of the pillow to the red of the cover, contrasting with the woman’s body.

Modigliani in the representation of nudity breaks with the traditional rules, whilst still maintaining a link with the tradition of the Renaissance ‘naked Venus’.

About thirty years ago, Modí was at the center of a colossal joke. On the occasion of an exhibition (Museum of Modern Art in Livorno) organized for the centenary of his birth, it was decided to see if the legend, according to which Modigliani would have thrown in the Fosso Reale some sculptures were true. Dredging the fosse three heads were found. Art critics are divided in two. Those who believed right away that they were false, and supporters of authenticity. The mystery lasted a month, until four students told the joke submitting photos and films of the falsification of two heads, it was then revealed the author of the third, Angelo Froglia, was a port worker and a painter. Curiously, the catalog (renamed ‘Modí’s mockery’), published after the discovery of the heads, and presented at the exhibition dedicated to Modigliani, is particularly sought after by collectors.

The Nu couché enters, d’office, in the club of the works sold at auction at more than $ 100 million. On the podium there are, Les Femmes d’Alger by Pablo Picasso ($179.4 millions) Nu couché by Amedeo Modígliani ($ 170.4 million) and Trois Etudes de Lucian Freud, by Francis Bacon, ($ 142.4 millions). The ‘top ten’ includes two paintings by Picasso, three sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, one painting by Edvard Munch and one by Andy Warhol.

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We do not know if this time Mr. Liu paid with his American Express card as he had done when he bought for 45 million dollars the 15th-century silk hanging (called a thangka), at Christie’s auction in Hong Kong in 2014, and for 36 million dollars a tiny Ming dynasty porcelain, (known as a “cup chicken”) at a Sotheby’s sale.

Those transactions surely gave him a hell lot of millions of reward points…


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