A hundred years ago, Amadeo Modigliani painted a portrait of his wild British mistress splayed across a red velvet throw, nude, her hips arched, her kohl-rimmed eyes shut. The artist was hardly trying to play it safe – Paris officials promptly shut down the show where the work was first exhibited.
By contrast, the purchase of the painting last week by Chinese collector Liu Yiqian for $170 million was a staid investment and – unlike his bold foray back into Chinese stocks at the nadir of this summer's crash - much more in line with those of other Chinese billionaires.
If 2008 was the year that the global financial crisis set Chinese wealth flowing across the globe, often in pursuit of dirt-cheap real estate in the United States and Europe, 2015 will be remembered as a year in which private money has been driven out of China and then stranded there while the economy back home adjusted jerkily towards a new normal. And where low interest rates have nudged funds out of banks, continued currency devaluation loomed and a crackdown on corruption has driven wealthy individuals out.
"Over the last four months wealthy Chinese have been shifting wealth offshore because of concerns that the renminbi is going to depreciate," said Shaun Rein, market director at China Market Research Group. "Coupled with that, the corruption campaign [is] very real and [people are] very scared."
Much of that money has been shifted to property in the U.S., London, Australia, Singapore and Canada. This year Chinese investors surpassed Canadians to become the biggest foreign investor in U.S. residential real estate, spending $28.6 billion in a single year, according to the National Association of Real Estate Agents.