Moscow’s Modigliani Counterfeit Controversy




Accusations that Pushkin Museum is exhibiting forged Modigliani portrait in major Paris School show

Moscow’s State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts has been accused of displaying a fake Modigliani in their exhibition ‘Paris School: 1905-32’. The painting in question is titled

Portrait of Marevna, and is described by the gallery as a 1919 portrait by Modigliani of Marie Vorobieff-Stebelska, a cubist painter known as Marevna who moved in Modigliani’s Paris circles.

A major (but anonymous) Russian collector, however, has sounded the horn, alongside a number of other key figures in the Russian art world. In 2006, he had considered buying the picture for $3 million, and had it subjected to scientific testing. He describes how, ‘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’; this is problematic due to the fact that Modigliani died in 1920.

Another voice of concern comes from Natalia Kournikova, whose gallery Nashi Khudozhniki recently organised a major exhibition of Marevna’s work at Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery. Her complaint is that ‘It doesn’t look like Marevna at all’, and, what’s more, ‘Marevna doesn’t mention anywhere that Modigliani painted her portrait’.

The president of the Modigliani Institute in Rome with the legal right to authenticate Modigliani’s work, however, rebuts these allegations, and insists that the portrait is genuine. Indeed, Christian Parisot (the man in question) can provide various documents – including a declaration by Marevna –, as well as the positive results of scientific tests, in support of the painting’s authenticity.

He argues that ‘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’; and even denies the existence of the opposing evidence cited by the Russian collector, stating that ‘there is no scientific research from any laboratory claiming otherwise’.

This is not, furthermore, the painting’s first outing. It was, for example, shown at the extensive 2010 Modigliani exhibition ‘Amedeo Modigliani’ at the Municipal House in Prague. And it was similarly attributed to Modigliani in 1983 when it was shown at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris – when Marevna was still alive! 

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