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Modigliani’s Nipples Get the Trotsky Treatment from Bloomberg

12 November 2015

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories. Follow @Rakewelltweets.

On Monday, the art world went bananas over reports that a reclining nude by Modigliani had become the second most expensive work of art ever to be sold at auction. Rakewell favourite Jonathan Jones of The Guardian was impressed, and went some way to applauding taxi driver-turned billionaire Liu Yiqian, who splurged $170 million on it for his taste:

‘The art market has got it right’, wrote Jones, ‘if you can stomach all those zeros. This is one of the great modern paintings and it is worth any sum you like’. (This in itself is something of a volte-face from Jonesey’s previous thoughts on such prices, which he described as ‘palpably absurd’). Jones described the painting as a ‘sensual masterpiece’, but it seems not everyone agreed. When Bloomberg TV and CNBC aired news of the sale, it apparently made a point of airbrushing out the expensive nude’s nipples and pubic hair. In print, the Financial Times went for tasteful black bars over the offending parts of the anatomy, giving Modigliani’s nude the air of an advert for bondage gear.

This, apparently, is standard practice for TV news reports in the US. When Les Femmes d’Alger – hardly an image likely to feature on page 3 anytime soon – achieved its record price, it inspired similar bosom blurring when Fox 5 News aired the story. But perhaps confused by the painting’s distorted perspectives, the re-touchers omitted to fog out a bum that protrudes from the right hand side of the work.

The news outlets have been ridiculed for their prudish heavy handedness, but at least they kept themselves to omitting only the supposedly ‘rude’ parts of the female anatomy. In a 2012 catalogue intended for the Saudi Arabian market, Swedish design giant IKEA went the whole hog and vanished women out of the photos completely.

One feels that Leon Trotsky, who was famously ‘airbrushed from history’ by his rival Stalin, would surely have sympathised. Though what he would have made of the #Freethenipple campaign, one can only guess.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets

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