Amedeo Modigliani enthusiasts are astounded by the revelation that an exhibition of the Italian artist’s work contained 20 fake paintings.
The major showcase at the Doge’s Palace in Genoa was shut three days early in July 2017 after suspicions were raised over the authenticity of the works on display. Prior to closing, tens of thousands of visitors visited the exhibition to view the iconic expressionist works thought to be worth tens of millions of pounds. Though housed in the Doge’s Palace, the exhibition was organised by a private company.
Art critic and collector, Carlo Pepi, was the first to raise the alarm over the suspected fraud. His first clue was the marketing material used to promote the exhibition before it opened in March 2017, which featured a reprint of the oil painting ‘Marie, daughter of the people’ (1918). Delving further into the exhibition catalogue only heightened his suspicions. “Poor Modigliani, to attribute to him these ugly abominations”, Pepi told reporters. “A Michelangelo is a Michelangelo. A Picasso is a Picasso. But when a painting is a fake, it is missing its soul” he added.
Overwhelmed by the number of potential fakes in the exhibition, Pepi lodged a complaint with the Carabinieri paramilitary police’s specialist art fraud unit in Rome. Twenty-one suspected forgeries were handed over to investigators and studied for months by art historians. This month (January 2018) they concluded that all but one painting in the collection were masterly reproductions.
Pepi, who has battled art fraud and fake Modiglianis for several years, believes the works exhibited in the Genoa show were executed in the 1980s. “The situation is grotesque – it sometimes seems that he painted more when he was dead than when he was alive”, Pepi lamented. He also warned that this cluster of fake works represented “just the tip of the iceberg”. This opinion is shared by Modigliani expert, Marc Restellini, who believes there could be as many as 1,000 Modigliani fakes in circulation.
Curator of the Genoa show, Rudy Chiappini, and art dealer and owner of 11 of the fake works, Joseph Guttman, are under investigation together with a third unnamed party. The Doge’s Palace is seeking damages from the private organisers of the event for embarrassment caused by the scandal and is facing calls to refund visitors to the exhibition. In accordance with Italian law, the fake Modiglianis will be destroyed.