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Catalogues raisonnés rivals dispute Bonhams’s Modigliani

The authenticity of Jeune Fille aux Cheveux Noirs is questioned, but only by some experts

The Paris- and Rome-based Modigliani Institute (Archives Légales Amedeo Modigliani), which has the legal moral right to authenticate the artist’s work, says that a recent work sold at a London auction is not authentic. Jeune Fille aux Cheveux Noirs (young woman with black hair, around 1918) was sold at Bonhams London for £825,250 with buyer’s premium last month (est £700,000-£1m).

The president of the Modigliani Institute, French art historian Christian Parisot, says that the painting will not be included in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné which is due to be published later this year. “Questions still need to be answered about this work. The provenance information needs to be taken into consideration. In the meantime, we will not publish this piece,” says Parisot.

The work comes to the market from the Laurance S. Rockefeller Fund, named after the grandson of the oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. “We are content that absolute, careful and thorough due diligence was undertaken in authenticating this picture by Modigliani,” says a Bonhams spokesman. “The Archives Légales Amedeo Modigliani in Paris did not contact Bonhams at any stage prior to the sale, or indeed after the sale.”

The estate of the early 20th-century artist is one of the most problematic in the art world. There are at least five catalogues raisonnés of the artist’s work including a volume by Ambrogio Ceroni, last updated in 1972. Bonhams says that Jeune Fille aux Cheveux Noirs will nonetheless be included in the forthcoming Amedeo Modigliani Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint being prepared by Parisot’s arch rival Marc Restellini under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.

This is the latest in a long-running public spat between the two specialists, Parisot and Restellini, who have been competing for the right to be the leading authority on Modigliani for more than a decade. Parisot inherited the moral right to authenticate the artist’s work through his friendship with Modigliani’s daughter.