A fake Modigliani at the Pushkin museum?

November 18 2011

Image of A fake Modigliani at the Pushkin  museum?

Picture: The Art Newspaper

The Art Newspaper has an intriguing story about Modigliani's Portrait of Marevna (Marie Vorobieff-Stebelska, above right). An anonymous Russian collector has told TAN that he had the chance to buy it, but after subjecting it to scientific tests found out that it was a fake. The Modigliani Institute in Rome, on the other hand, and the Pushkin Museum, maintain it is legit. 

First, 'the Russian collector':

 “After 40 days, I got the evaluation back from the institute, which indicated that some of the pigments used in this painting were synthetic, produced after 1940,” he says. Modigliani died in 1920. The collector now says he is “revolted” to see the work hanging in the Pushkin as a genuine Modigliani.

Now, the Modigliani Institute:

Christian Parisot, the president of the Modigliani Institute in Rome who has the legal right to authenticate Modigliani’s work, insists that it is a genuine portrait. He denies all of the allegations questioning the authenticity of Portrait of Marevna and offers various documents, including a declaration by Marevna saying that she posed for Modigliani, and cites the results of scientific tests as proof.

“Current chemical and spectrographic tests demonstrate that the support, the canvas and all the colours used in this painting are of the period of the artist, and are comparable to those of the other paintings,” he says. He adds that there is no scientific research from any laboratory claiming otherwise.

The painting is listed in Parisot’s catalogue raisonné of Modigliani (Catalogue Raisonné A. Modigliani, Volume II, 1991) and has been exhibited elsewhere. It was shown at an extensive Modigliani exhibition “Amedeo Modigliani”, that opened in 2010 and ran until February this year at the Municipal House in Prague. The Modigliani Institute also points out that the painting was attributed to the artist when it was shown in 1983 at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris, when Marevna was still alive.

There seems to be a compelling case in the painting's favour. You read the full story here.

But a couple of things puzzle me. The picture is apparently for sale for EUR9m. I haven't seen the painting, but one wonders why the mystery 'Russian collector' is publicising this story. One also wonders why The Art Newspaper has not published or even seen for itself (as far as one can tell from the story) the collector's technical analysis. Certainly, I would be mightily annoyed if TAN published an anonymous collector's questioning of one of my paintings, with no evidence. Wouldn't you? Perhaps there is some murky behind-the-scenes negotiation going on - questioning a picture's validity is a great way to lower the price!

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