A former Chinese cab driver who hustled his way to becoming a billionaire just set the world record for the second highest price ever paid for a work of art an auction with the purchase of a $170.4 million painting.
The painting, Amedeo Modigliani’s “Nu Couché”, or “Reclining Nude”, was sold on Monday at Christie’s in Manhattan to Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian who bid for the painting over the phone. “Reclining Nude” is now the second highest price ever paid for a work of art at an auction behind Pablo Picasso’s “Women of Algiers (Version O)”, which sold for $179.5 million at Christie’s last May.
Yiqian, 52, was a middle school dropout who struggled to survive during China’s Cultural Revolution by selling handbags on the street before becoming a cab driver. In the 1980s and 1990s, he made a fortune off investing in stocks for real estate and pharmaceuticals. Now worth $1.4 billion, Yiqian is an art collector and the owner, along with his wife, of two art museums in Shanghai where they are known to be flashy art collectors.
Yiqian plans to bring the pricey painting to display in one of his museums so that Chinese people don’t have to travel across the world just to see it.
The eccentric art collector made headlines last year when bought the famous Ming Dynasty “Chicken Cup,” a finely crafted teacup with a rooster drawn on it, for $36.3 million. Yiqian paid for the cup by using his black American Express Centurion card and swiping it 24 times. Yiqian later posted a picture of himself sipping tea from the antique cup.