Modigliani Drawing Exposed as Fake and Seized Ahead of Sale

The drawing raised immediate suspicions when it was submitted for an export license in 2022.

A fake Modigliani drawing was identified by the Carabinieri Unit for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Venice. Photo courtesy of Italy's Ministry for Culture.

A drawing attributed to the Italian modernist Amedeo Modigliani was about to be sold with a price tag of €300,000 ($320,000) when it was exposed as a fake by the Venice Cultural Heritage Protection Unit.

The work aroused immediate suspicion when it was submitted to the local export office in Venice in 2022 to be approved for a Certificate of Free Circulation that would allow it to cross international borders. The company behind the application described the drawing as being Untitled (1913), but little information was given about its provenance, even upon request. It had been assigned the value of €300,000 ($320,000).

According to a press release issued by Italy’s ministry for culture, art historians working for the Export Commission as well as scholars from the Galleria dell’Accademia in Rome and the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa all agreed that the composition very closed matched a Modigliani drawing from his “caryatids” series produced between 1912–14 that was donated to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1943.

However, compared to this known work, its style and degree of technical accomplishment “aroused many doubts,” according to the press statement.

In July 2022, the questionable work was passed over to the Carabineri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, also known as the Carabinieri TPC, a unit dedicated to tackling crimes related to art and antiquities. An investigation was launched under the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Venice; the work was seized by the Carabinieri TPC and traced back to an art gallery in Abruzzo, which was trying to sell the work on behalf of a private individual from the same region in southern Italy. This man had apparently received the drawing from his adoptive father who purchased it at another local gallery, now defunct.

The case was referred to Laboratory of Forgeries at Roma Tre University, which analyzed the work and declared it a fake in January 2023. This led the Carabinieri to look into the “hypothetical criminal liability against a person reported for putting into circulation a counterfeit work of art.” The outcome of this investigation has not yet been announced.

In February 2024, the Court of Venice officially ordered the drawing to be confiscated and permanently handed over to Laboratory of Forgeries in Rome. Both the Carabinieri TPC in Venice and the Laboratory of Forgeries did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

The market for Modigliani appears to be particularly vulnerable to the circulation of fakes. Major auction houses are very careful about accepting any artwork attributed to the artist that is not listed in Ambrogio Ceroni’s catalogue raisonné from 1958, even though it is known not to have been comprehensive. Another catalogue raisonné by Christian Parisot has been widely discredited for its inclusion of questionable works.

In 2019, the Carabinieri announced that it was investigating several suspects in connection with the alleged exhibition of a group of fake Modigliani works at a museum in Genoa in 2017.

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