Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne

This painting from Scotland's national collection is a near copy of Modigliani's Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne (1918) in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena. It was sold as a genuine Modigliani to Alexander and Rosalind Maitland in November 1955 by the dealer Arthur Tooth & Sons for £7,000, an exceptional price for the artist at that date.

Nevertheless, doubts about the picture’s authenticity were raised by the National Galleries of Scotland from the moment it entered the collection in 1960. Its status as a fake was confirmed in 1981 when the picture was x-rayed and exhibited in preparation for a Modigliani exhibition at the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris. It was exhibited in a special ‘Fakes’ section.

Unknown (after Amedeo Modigliani) Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne

One of the reasons it took so long for experts to realise the picture’s true status was the fact that it was accompanied by three certificates of authenticity. These were provided by André Schoeller, a recognised expert on Modigliani; the Italian French art historian Alberto d’Atri, who established a register of Modigliani paintings; and Mme Zborowska, the wife of Modigliani’s main dealer, who recalled that the painting had been created by Modigliani in 1918. She even recorded that the sitter, Jeanne Hébuterne, ‘liked it very much’, continuing: ‘my husband never claimed it and it remained with Modigliani until he had to sell it when he moved from Nice to Paris in May 1919. Since then I had not seen the picture again until now.’

Modigliani is among the most frequently forged artists in the world. Probably the most famous person to fake his work was Elmyr de Hory (1906-1976), who was the subject of Orson Welles’s 1973 film F is for Fake. Not even expert opinions are necessarily foolproof. In 1912 the Modigliani expert Christian Gregori Pariso was arrested for forging and fraudulently endorsing dozens of fakes.

In recently years the market for Modigliani’s work has grown exponentially and in 2018 his Nu Couché (1917) achieved the record auction price of $157 million at Sotheby’s in New York.


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