The Real Modigliani

2010 AFP / Getty Images

For Marc Restellini, authenticating the works of the modernist Italian master is a matter of life and death.

This spring, French curator and art-world rebel Marc Restellini plans to release his long-awaited catalogue raisonné of Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920), a definitive index of the Italian artist’s extant works. One such catalog was already published in 1972 by the respected critic Ambrogio Ceroni, but it is incomplete. Restellini has added about a hundred works to the 337 that Ceroni recorded and de-authenticated a handful. “If ever there’s an imbecile who pretends [a painting in our catalog] is fake,” says Restellini, “it’s up to him to prove it, because we have so much scientific and analytical data that attest to the works’ authenticity.”

It’s a tough time to be in the art-authentication business. With paintings (including Modigliani’s) regularly selling for eight or nine figures at auction, forgeries have infected the market, to the point where many artists’ estates have simply refused to confirm any undocumented works for fear of litigation. Or worse: Restellini claims to have received death threats from collectors when he embarked on the catalogue raisonné in 2006. But Restellini doesn’t scare easily. He proved this in 2007, when he opened the Pinacothèque de Paris, a small, private exhibition space whose popularity was seen as an affront to France’s state-financed cultural establishment. (It closed after the terrorist attacks of November 2015.)

Restellini hopes his compendium will put an end to the drama when he publishes it online (and possibly in print). But he knows the painter all too well: “Modigliani is one of those artists who make everyone who touches them go mad.” institut-restellini.com.

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