The centerpiece of Monday's sale is Modigliani's "Reclining Nude," which the auction house estimates will fetch in excess of $100 million. Considered one of his best known works, the 1917-1918 painting nearly created a scandal when it was first exhibited in Paris. The auction record for a Modigliani now stands at $71 million.
A Lichtenstein work not seen on the market for 20 years also is on tap. "Nurse," which has a stellar exhibition and provenance history, is estimated to bring $80 million, exceeding the auction record for the pop artist of $56 million.
Impressionist, modern and contemporary art by well-known artists "do not require a tremendous amount of aesthetic or intellectual risk on the part of the collector," said Sarah Lichtman, assistant professor of design history at Parson School of Design. "They are beautiful paintings — some even exceptional as is the Modigliani — but they are tried and true."
Christie's expects to sell at least $1 billion of art over a series of evening, day and online sales this week.
"There is clearly good appetite among collectors for exceptional works of art offered with appropriate estimates," said Brook Hazelton, president of the Americas for Christie's. "This is a very broad and globally diverse market at the moment, with strong interest in paintings, sculpture and works on paper from the $10,000 level straight up to multimillion-dollar masterpieces at the top end."
Spirited bidding also is expected for two major works by Gaugin from his Tahiti period.
"Therese," a carved wooden figure of a Tahitian female, could set a new auction record for a sculpture by the artist if it sells for its presale estimate of $18 million to $25 million.
The other Gauguin, "Young Man with a Flower," is a painting of a Tahitian youth wearing a white shirt, loose cravat and a white blossom tucked behind his ear. Christie's estimates it could bring $12 million to $18 million.
The portrait's first owner was Henri Matisse, who paid 200 francs for it in 1900. Later owners included John Quinn and Lillie Bliss, one of the original founders of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The current auction record for a Gauguin painting is $40.3 million.
Among other highlights of "The Artist's Muse" sale is Pablo Picasso's "Man with a Sword," a self-portrait of the artist as a musketeer created in 1969 and estimated to bring as much $25 million. Christie's said interest in Picasso's late period musketeer portraits has grown dramatically in recent years.
Also of interest are two works by Lucian Freud.
"Naked Portrait on a Red Sofa" is a portrait of the artist's daughter, the fashion designer Bella Freud. Its pre-sale estimate is $20 million to $30 million. One of a series of portraits of his daughters, it is the first time it's being offered at auction.
On Tuesday, Christie's is offering Freud's "Brigadier," a portrait of Andrew Parker Bowles, the former husband of Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the wife of Prince Charles. It was on view at the 2012 retrospective of the artist at the National Portrait Gallery in London and portrays the career soldier wearing his sumptuous army brigadier uniform. It's estimated to sell for around $30 million.
Tuesday's post-war and contemporary art sale also has a mammoth bronze "Spider" sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, estimated at $25 million to $35 million. If realized, that price would exceed the artist's current auction record of $10.7 million and set a record for a sculpture by a female artist.