Former Chinese taxi driver turned billionaire snaps up Modigliani for record price

Liu Yiqian is still the name on the lips of many art dealers in New York at the moment.
The former taxi driver turned billionaire art collector snapped up the painting of a naked woman by Amedeo Modigliani for the hefty price tag of $170.4 million at Christie’s in New York last month.
The piece, entitled Reclining Nude, was subjected to a nine-minute bidding war before eventually going to  Liu Yiqian, who has built a reputation as one of China’s most ostentatious art-loving billionaires.
The 1917-1918 painting is widely considered to be one of Modigliani’s best-known works, shocking the sensibilities of punters and critics alike when it was first exhibited in Paris.
Having smashed the previous $71 million record auction price for a work by the Italian artist, the sale has also made the painting the second-most expensive artwork to ever be sold at auction and is one of only ten pieces to sell for a nine-figure sum.

New York return?

As well as having a reputation for being one of China’s more flashy collectors, Liu Yiqian also owns two private museums in Shanghai with his wife, Wang Wei, including the Long Museum Pudong, which opened in 2012; and the Long Museum West Bund, which opened last year.
But he told the New York Times that his latest acquisition could already be set for an imminent return to the city, adding that Modigliani’s paintings carry a certain air of magic with them.
“We are planning to exhibit it for the museum’s fifth anniversary,” he said. “It will be an opportunity for Chinese art lovers to see good artworks without having to leave the country, which is one of the main reasons why we founded the museums.”
“Modigliani’s works already have a pretty established value on the market. This work is relatively nice compared to his other nude paintings. And his nude paintings have been collected by some of the world’s top museums.”
Many cynics could write off Liu Yiqian as a man only interested in making money, using art as a financial investment rather than ensuring its beauty is shared with the wider world.
And at the same time, he seems to harbour a genuinely strong interest in art, particularly Modigliani.
“To me, art collecting is primarily a process of learning about art,” Mr. Liu told The New York Times in 2013. “First you must be fond of the art. Then you can have an understanding of it.”
One may argue that Mr Liu’s past has played a key role in shaping his views. As a teenager during the Cultural Revolution, he started off selling handbags on the streets of Shanghai before becoming a taxi driver.
After dropping out of school, he made a fortune on the crest of China’s economic opening and reform, trading stock in real estate and pharmaceuticals over the 1980s and 1990s.
The 2015 Bloomberg Billionaires Index currently values Mr. Liu at around $1.5 billion, representing a dramatic turnaround in fortunes, allowing a genuine love of great art to shine through.