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Fake Modigliani Confiscated

June 24, 2024
A sketch of a nude woman with her arms raised

The confiscated drawing in the style of Amedeo Modigliani

Italian authorities have confiscated a fake Modigliani drawing after its owner applied for an export license to sell it abroad.

An untitled drawing, supposedly created in 1913 by Amadeo Modigliani, was seized by the Carabinieri’s Cultural Heritage Protection Unit in Venice. The work’s owner applied for an export license in 2022, putting its estimated value at €300,000. This indicates that they likely had plans to sell the drawing outside of Italy, and how it appeared on the authorities’ radar. Modigliani is one of the more popular artists among forgers and counterfeiters, with fakes constantly popping up on the market. Some estimate that 70% of Modigliani works available today are copies, forgeries, fakes, or otherwise inauthentic. His unique style and high auction prices are likely factors in this. Sadly, Modigliani never kept records of his work, leaving a large hole in the documentary evidence about the artist’s oeuvre. Art dealers and specialists, therefore, heavily rely on the artist’s catalogue raisonné, compiled by Ambrogio Ceroni in 1958. However, verified Modigliani works have come to light in the more than sixty-five years since its publication, making Ceroni’s catalogue raisonné seem incomplete. Regardless, it’s still the best resource available to dealers and auction houses for authentication.

The confiscated drawing appears to have been a rough replica of a known Modigliani drawing from his Caryatid series between 1912 and 1914. These works are distinctive female nudes, always depicted with their arms raised. They are named and modeled after the classical architectural component of the same name, which is a sculpture of a woman serving as a column. Modigliani, primarily known as a painter, was influenced by his friend Constantin Brâncuși and began to experiment with sculpture. These caryatid drawings were preliminary sketches for a sculpture series, of which only one was completed. He referred to them as “columns of tenderness” designed to support a “temple of beauty”. The original Modigliani drawing, upon which the forgery is based, has been part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection since 1943. The fake is a simple pencil on paper, while the original was crafted with a distinctive blue crayon. The Carabinieri traced the forgery’s ownership back to a gallery in Abruzzo, which was selling the work on behalf of a man who claimed to have inherited it from his adoptive father.

The authorities, in a meticulous process, sought the expertise of several Italian cultural institutions, including the Galleria dell’Accademia in Venice, Rome’s State Museums Directorate, the Università Roma Tre, and Pisa’s Scuola Normale Superiore, to ascertain the work’s authenticity. The drawing was officially declared a fake in January 2023, prompting the Carabinieri to initiate a criminal investigation into the forgery. However, it was not until February of this year that a court in Venice officially seized the drawing and sent it to Rome for further in-depth analysis.