Art Market

20 Works in Major Modigliani Exhibition Confirmed to Be Forgeries

Isaac Kaplan
Jan 10, 2018 11:09PM

Palazzo Ducale at the Piazza Matteotti. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images.

More than 100,000 people flocked to a Genoa exhibition last year to ogle paintings attributed to Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. But expert examination of these works has revealed that much of the show was comprised of forgeries.

Scholars confirmed Tuesday that 20 of the Modiglianis previously on view at Genoa’s Palazzo Ducale were actually fakes, the Telegraph reported. This news follows a lengthy investigation into the provenance of the paintings initiated by Italian authorities last summer.

“Finally it’s come out into the open,” Carlo Pepi, a Tuscan art historian and Modigliani expert, told the Telegraph. Tuesday’s confirmation is a vindication of sorts for Pepi, who first questioned the legitimacy of artworks in February 2017, a month before the Genoa show opened. Pepi previously told the Telegraph that the style and quality of the first work used to promote the show, a 1918 oil painting attributed to Modigliani, simply didn’t pass muster.

He notified Italian police and international press of his suspicions. Additional Modigliani experts soon weighed in, agreeing with Pepi’s assessment. Prosecutors in Genoa seized 21 of the roughly 60 paintings on display in July, bringing the exhibition to an abrupt end three days ahead of schedule. Experts found that only one work under investigation, which carried a seal of authenticity from the Italian government, was not forged.

Art historian Isabella Quattrocchi, asked by Italian authorities to examine the works, didn’t mince words. She described the paintings as “blatantly falsified,” citing both their style and pigment composition. Even the frames were a giveaway: Quattrocchi told Italian news agency ANSA that they were traced to the United States and Eastern Europe and have “nothing to do” with Modigliani.

The art squad of the Italian Carabinieri is continuing to look into the case. Exhibition curator Rudy Chiappini is under investigation, along with Joseph Guttmann, the Hungarian dealer who owns 11 of the pieces, and another unnamed party. Chiappini spoke with the New York Times when the works were first seized, defending his curatorial decisions by claiming that the paintings in question had been “accepted until now without reservations by the international scientific community.”

Marc Restellini, a French Modigliani expert, told Artsy that the works included in the Genoa exhibition were previously considered forgeries by experts. “If another conclusion had been arrived at, I would have been surprised,” he said of Tuesday’s confirmation, noting that it remains unclear how the works were allowed to be shown in Genoa at all.

The Palazzo Ducale said it is cooperating with authorities and denied any attempt to deceive, asserting that the institution trusted Chiappini, who served as director of the Museo d’Arte Moderna in Lugano, Switzerland, for nearly two decades.

Modigliani’s market is notoriously riddled with forgeries. The high prices fetched by the artist, including the whopping $170.4 million paid for the artist’s Nu couché (1917–18) in 2015, have tempted forgers in recent years. And the absence of a definitive catalogue raisonné means there is no single index of all the pieces created by the artist. Although experts believe his extant paintings number around 350 in total, it can be difficult to confirm the authenticity of an individual painting attributed to Modigliani. Restellini is currently working on a catalogue raisonné for the artist that he says, once completed, will make it more difficult to falsely claim a work was painted by the artist.

The action taken by Italian authorities has heartened Modigliani experts, including Pepi, though the scale of the problem remains daunting. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Pepi told the Telegraph. “It sometimes seems that he painted more when he was dead than when he was alive.”

Kenneth Wayne—founder of the Modigliani Project, a database of works attributed to the artist—said that 2018 has the potential to be a turning point in the fight against Modigliani forgeries. As a member of an international committee dedicated to researching the Italian painter’s techniques and materials, he is working to establish standards for authentication (for example, what pigments investigators should expect to find in a genuine work).

Wayne hopes that by 2020, the centennial of the artist’s death, forgery will no longer be a major issue for Modigliani scholars, dealers, and collectors. “It bothers me that whenever you mention the word Modigliani you hear the word ‘fake,’” he said. “A lot of people, like me, want this resolved once and for all.”

Isaac Kaplan