He is a taxi driver-turned-tycoon with a reputation for breaking records in his pursuit of priceless works of art for his museum in Shanghai.
But Liu Yiqian has stunned the art world by setting a new benchmark in the incredible buying power of wealthy Chinese investors with his US$170.4 million purchase of Amedeo Modigliani’s Reclining Nude.
It was the second-highest price achieved at auction for a work of art, and a record for the Italian artist.
Liu, who made his US$1.5 billion fortune through the stock market, has a taste for spending millions on art.
He bought a 600-year-old imperial embroidered Tibetan tapestry from a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong for $45 million last November, breaking a record for a Chinese work at an international auction he had set months earlier when he purchased a Ming porcelain cup for US$36 million.
The sums are part of a trend among China’s super-rich to hunt down masterpieces across the world. Wang Jianlin, ranked as China’s richest man by Forbes magazine, spent $20.4 million on a Monet painting in May, days after media entrepreneur Wang Zhongjun spent $29.9 million on a Picasso.
Liu’s telephone bid at Christie’s in New York on Monday was short of the $179.3 million paid for Picasso’s The Women of Algiers by an anonymous buyer in May.
Liu says he hopes that ordinary Chinese will be able to share his appreciation for the Modigliani. “We are planning to exhibit it for the museum’s fifth anniversary,” he said. Liu and his wife, Wang Wei, opened the Long Museum Pudong in 2012 and the Long Museum West Bund last year, with the two sites containing more than 2,000 of the greatest artworks in China.
It has been a staggering journey for a man who was born into a working class family in Shanghai in 1963. On leaving school at 16, he helped with his mother’s handbag business before saving to buy his own taxi. Soon after he began investing on the stock exchange. “I think I have an exceptional nose for the market,” he told Bloomberg earlier this year.