The unfinished works of Modigliani, an Italian-born artist who worked in Paris before his death in 1920, have come to light after the canvas of “Nude with a Hat” at Haifa University’s Hecht Museum was x-rayed in part of a forensic study sweep of his work for an upcoming exhibition in Philadelphia.
Inna Berkowits, an art historian at the Hecht Museum, said it was “a pretty amazing find”.
“Thanks to X-rays, we are really able to make this inanimate object speak,” she told The Associated Press.
Modigliani is considered one of the great modernist artists of the 20th century. He lived a short, turbulent, bohemian life in France, where his nude paintings were controversial. His work is characterized by slender, elongated necks and faces, a characteristic style influenced by African and Cycladic Greek art which was just beginning to arrive in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Jewish artist died at 35, penniless.
One of his paintings, “Reclining Nude”, fetched over $170 million when it sold at auction in 2015, making it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold. Another was sold in 2018 for $157 million at auction.
The high demand for authentic works by Modigliani generated a thriving market for counterfeits and forgeries.
The last time Italy held a major Modigliani exhibition, a 2017 show at the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa, museum officials closed the exhibit early after experts claimed many of the works on display were forgeries. A criminal trial has been ongoing for more than a year.
In 2018, x-ray technology revealed a previously unknown portrait of Modigliani under one of his paintings at the Tate Gallery in London.
Modigliani’s “Nude in a Hat” from 1908 is already an unusual painting. Both sides of the canvas feature portraits painted in opposite directions. Visitors entering the galleries of the Hecht Museum are greeted by an upside-down nude portrait. A likeness of Maud Abrantes, a friend of the artist, on the reverse is right side up.
In 2010, the museum curator noticed the eyes of a third figure peeking under the Abrantes pass. But it was only this year that the hidden image came into focus.
“When we decided to do the x-ray, we were just looking to find out a bit more about the figure hidden under Maud Abrantes,” Berkowits said. In addition to a hidden woman wearing a hat, they found two other portraits on the opposite side that were completely invisible to the naked eye: one of a man and the other of a woman with her hair up. in a bun.
The “Nu au chapeau” dates from the start of Modigliani’s career, shortly after he moved to Paris from Italy when he struggled to find buyers for his art. The painting was purchased by the museum’s founder in 1983.
The canvas is now known to contain five of his paintings, probably painted on top of each other out of necessity to save money on new canvases. X-ray photography and other non-invasive technologies found hidden works by other artists such as Degas and Rembrandt.
Berkowits called the artwork a “sketchbook on a canvas”, showing Modigliani’s repeated essays and his “endless search for artistic expression”. She said there was “no doubt” the painting was authentic.
“He was one of the very first multicultural artists to draw inspiration from different sources,” said Kenneth Wayne, director of the
Modigliani Project, an organization working to compile an authenticated collection of the artist’s works. He cited Modigliani’s contemporaries Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse as other examples.
Modigliani sought “an air of strangeness and beauty” and achieved this through the incorporation of these foreign styles into his art, Wayne added. Wayne and his colleagues use scientific methods and artistic expertise to eliminate counterfeits.
The x-ray photography was taken ahead of a major exhibition of Modigliani’s works at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.
Wayne said a growing number of technical studies like the one from the Barnes Foundation have increased confidence in confirming genuine Modiglianis.
The foundation museum said the exhibition will open on October 16 and will explore the artist’s working methods and materials based on a forensic study of dozens of Modigliani’s paintings and sculptures borrowed from collections from around the world.