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

NEW YORK, May 14 (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.

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Artwork by Amedeo Modigliani
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Artwork by Amedeo Modigliani
A member of staff poses near "Les deux files" by Amedeo Modigliani at Christie's auction house in London, January 30, 2015. The Modigliani is estimated to sell for between U.S. $9-12 million (6-8 million British pounds) when it is auctioned on Feb. 4 in London. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY)
A visitor stands between the paintings "Violon et Village" by Marc Chagall (L) and "Portrait du Peintre Rouveyre" by Amedeo Modigliani during a press preview for the Impressionists & Modern Art Auction at Christie's auction house in New York April 26, 2012. REUTERS/Keith Bedford (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY)
Staff pose with "Jeanne Hebuterne (au chapeau)" from 1919 by Amedeo Modigliani, at Christie's auction house in London February 1, 2013. The artwork is expected to sell for 16-22 million GB pounds (US$ 25-33 million) when auctioned at Christie's Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale on February 1. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY BUSINESS)
'Nu Couche(sur le cote gauche)' by Amedeo Modigliani is seen during a Sotheby's preview of the May Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, in New York on May 4, 2018. - In this exhibition there are paintings by Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and other artists, and the auction will be held on May 16, 2018. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman looks at 'Red-headed Woman wearing a Pendant' by Amedeo Modigliani, during a media preview of the exhibition 'From Zurbaran to Rothko. Collection Alicia Koplowitz' at the Andre Jacquemart museum in Paris on February 28, 2017. The exhibition will run from 3 March to 10 July 2017. / AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 16: Masterpieces by Modigliani and Picasso unveiled at Sotheby's on June 16, 2016 in London, England. (L-R) Modigliani's Jeanne Hebuterne (au foulard), 1919 (estimated in excess of �28 million) and Picasso's Femme assise, 1909 (estimated in excess of �30 million) will be auctioned as part of the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale on Tuesday. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 03: One of Finest Portraits by Amedeo Modigliani in Private Hands, Jeanne Hzbuterne (au foulard), 1919 will be offered in Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 21 June. The greatest portrait of his lover Jeanne Hzbuterne to appear at auction in a decade reveals a tender moment between a pioneer in the world of modern art and his most loyal muse. Just months after completing the painting, Modigliani died of tubercular meningitis, followed two days after by a distraught, and heavily pregnant, Jeanne who committed suicide by jumping out of a window at Sotheby's on June 3, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for Sotheby's)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 11: Art handlers hold Amedeo Modigliani's Jeune femme a la rose, 1916, (est $12,000,000-18,000,000 million) at Christie's on April 11, 2016 in London, England. The work will be sold as part of Christies upcoming New York 20th Century Auctions of Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary art. (Photo by Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
'Nu Couche(sur le cote gauche)' by Amedeo Modigliani is seen during a Sotheby's preview of the May Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, in New York on May 4, 2018. - In this exhibition there are paintings by Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and other artists, and the auction will be held on May 16, 2018. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
A man films in front of a painting entitled "Madame Zborowska" by Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani during a media presentation of the "Modigliani and His Times" exhibition at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid February 1, 2008. The exhibition, which opens on February 5, features works from the period of his arrival in Paris in 1906 till his death in 1920. REUTERS/Paul Hanna (SPAIN)
A man photographs a painting entitled "Portrait de femme polonaise" (Portrait of a Polish woman) by Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani during the media presentation of the "Modigliani and His Times" exhibition at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid, February 1, 2008. The exhibition, which opens on February 5, features works from the period of his arrival in Paris in 1906 till his death in 1920. REUTERS/Paul Hanna (SPAIN)
A Sotheby's employee is interviewed in front of "Jeanne Hebuterne" by Amedeo Modigliani during a preview of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art auction in New York October 29, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
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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.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud Editing by Darren Schuettler)

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