Modigliani Painting Returned to the Heirs of a Jewish Artist

The Sprengel Museum is featuring the work alongside an installation by Raphael Denis, the artist-researcher who brought the restitution claim to light.

Raphaël Denis installation at Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany. Photo: © Herling/Herling/Werner, Sprengel Museum Hannover. Courtesy of Raphaël Denis & Galerie Sator.

The German city of Hanover has returned Tête de Femme (1917) by the Italian modernist painter Amedeo Modigliani to the heirs of Michel Georges-Michel, a French Jewish painter and writer. The work was confiscated by the Nazis in Paris in 1941 and acquired by the city of Hanover in 1949. It was restituted on January 26 on the unanimous recommendation of the city’s cultural committee.

The painting was in the Sprengel Museum’s collection, which is marking the occasion of the restitution with a temporary public exhibition by the artist Raphaël Denis, whose research was instrumental in identifying the Modigliani painting as having been expropriated. “Restitution of a Painting” runs from February 17 until May 26, after which the painting will be handed over to Georges-Michel’s heirs.

The discovery was made while Denis was preparing the installation “The Göring-Rochlitz Transactions,” which is currently on display at Kunsthaus Zurich as part of a controversial exhibition of works permanently loaned to the Swiss museum by Emil Bührle, a collector and industrialist with Nazi ties. That exhibition presents archival records that detail an exchange of multiple stolen artworks between the powerful Nazi leader Hermann Göring and the German art dealer Gustav Rochlitz.

One of these confiscated works was the Modigliani portrait, which Denis traced back to the collections of the Sprengel Museum. The new temporary display created by Denis features the work beside imagined “packaging” and a miniature model of “The Göring-Rochlizt Transactions” installation he made for Kunsthaus Zurich.

Georges-Michel was a regular among the artistic communities of Montparnasse in Paris during the early 20th century. This was the setting for his 1924 novel Les Montparnos, and its protagonist Modrulleau was heavily based on Modigliani, who had died just a few years earlier.

Denis has been researching the looting of Jewish-owned art when France was under Nazi occupation for the past decade. He has produced a series of conceptual installations as part of his ongoing project The Normal Law of Errors.

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