Modigliani Retouching Controversy

September 3 2020

Image of Modigliani Retouching Controversy

Picture: The Art Newspaper

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Art Newspaper has reported on controversy that has arisen surrounding a retouched painting by Modigliani. The painting is caught up in a lawsuit between the scholar Marc Restellini and the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, with whom Restellini has been finishing a long awaited catalogue raisonné for the artist.

The most interesting part of the story, it seems to me, is the above painting of Beatrice Hastings Seat (1915). This picture sold at Christie's last year for $4.8m and given to Modigliani in full. Restellini has claimed previously that the auction house should have pointed out that the painting was retouched in the 1950s. The image on the right shows the painting in 1953 showing large areas where the work was clearly unfinished. The scholar's criticisms have also been interpreted as a concerted attempt to correct misattributions made in a previous catalogue raisonné by Ambrogio Ceroni in 1958. 

The article quotes Restellini having said in 1997, when it sold previously, that:

It had been transformed by someone else to make it more marketable. I showed Christie’s the original work’s photograph from the Paul Guillaume archives and said I could never include the painting as it stands today, because to me that is fake.

Christie's, quite rightly I think, have stood by the fact that the picture is still a Modigliani, albeit it a slightly altered state. The old master paintings world has a slightly more liberal view of paintings in different physical and restored states, for example. 

Overall, the story shows how political catalogue raisonné projects can be, especially with an artist whose works commands such high prices on the market.

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