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Police search Montparnasse Museum in Modigliani fakes investigation

Up to 1,000 forged works are circulating on the market, says expert

The Montparnasse Museum in Paris was searched by police in June, as part of an investigation into fake Modiglianis currently circulating on the art market in France and elsewhere.

Police wanted to search the Amadeo Modigliani Legal Archives, which contains letters, diaries and photographs, as well as books and catalogues. The archives’ website gives the same address as the museum’s.

A Paris judge ordered the search following the seizure of a “Modigliani” by police at the French auction rooms Drouot last year. The early, minor work, Promenade à Livorne, 1889 (estimate E30,000, $36,000) bore a false signature. In France, a judge can order a search before cases are brought to court. So far no suspect has been named or charged.

According to a police source close to the investigation, there are a number of suspect Modiglianis on the market which have been authenticated by the art historian Christian Parisot. The source says police suspect Mr Parisot of issuing certificates for fakes, and have impounded two other suspect Modiglianis, one imported from Italy and one from Japan, both with Parisot certificates.

Mr Parisot told The Art Newspaper that the basis of their suspicions is the presence of titanium white in the works, which is supposed not to have appeared until after the artist’s death. But Mr Parisot says it already existed at the beginning of the 20th century.

When police entered the Montparnasse Museum to search the Modigliani archives, which are controlled by Mr Parisot, he and the museum’s president said it was just a mailing address for Mr Parisot, who is on a museum committee. Mr Parisot moved the archives to Rome in May.

Mr Parisot has the right to authenticate the artist’s work, conferred on him by Modigliani’s daughter. Modigliani died leaving his affairs in disorder which has bedevilled attempts to identify the many fakes—estimated by a rival expert Marc Restellini to be as high as 1,000—produced after his death.

Five different authors have produced reference books, including Mr Parisot, but only the one by Ambrogio Ceroni (dated 1958, 1970 and 1972) is accepted as reliable. But it is incomplete as Ceroni only included works he had actually seen. A new catalogue raisonné is in preparation by Mr Restellini, funded by the Wildenstein Institute.

Mr Parisot and Mr Restellini are publicly feuding over the right to become the leading authority on Modigliani. In July Mr Parisot won a libel action against Mr Restellini after he claimed that 80% of the works in Mr Parisot’s exhibition “Modigliani in Venice, between Leghorn and Paris” in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice (19 May-5 July), were fake. Mr Restellini is appealing.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit is pending after another of Modigliani’s descendants had 70 drawings seized from a Parisot exhibition in Madrid in 2004, alleging they were fakes. According to the police source, there is a connection between the Spanish case and the current French one.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Police search museum in Modigliani fakes investigation'