Status of $4.8m Modigliani painting challenged as legal battle over artist’s catalogues raisonnés ramps up

Marc Restellini claims that Beatrice Hastings Seated (1915) underwent modifications that first appeared in Ambrogio Ceronis 1958 catalogue raisonné access rights from Keith Corrigan/Alamy Stock Photo

A legal battle between the French scholar Marc Restellini and the Wildenstein Plattner Institute (WPI) has once again laid bare the bitter rivalries in the lucrative field of Amedeo Modigliani attribution and the reputations at stake.

Restellinis motive in bringing the lawsuit against the WPI is to lay claim to the Modigliani catalogue raisonné he authored and the extensive scholarship behind it. The legal complaint also exposes a seemingly problematic unnamed Modigliani painting, which it says was sold last year for nearly $5m. The Art Newspaper can reveal that this painting is Modiglianis Portrait of Beatrice Hastings Seated (1915), which has been sold twice by Christies in the past 25 years, in 1997 and then again in 2019.

Restellini claims the work has been substantially modified since Modigliani completed it in 1915 and gave it to Paul Guillaume, his Paris dealer, who—as was his custom—photographed it. But no alteration was mentioned in Christies cataloguing in 1997 or 2019.

The painting is cited in Restellinis case to point out the flaws of Ambrogio Ceronis Modigliani catalogue raisonné, first published in 1958, revised in 1965 and 1970, and now regarded by many as the most reliable authority in authenticating a notoriously forged artist—a crown that Restellini hopes to wrest from Ceroni with the publication of his own long-awaited catalogue raisonné of the artist next year.

Restellini wants the Wildenstein Plattner Institute to return his research ITAR-TASS News Agency/Alamy Stock Photo

At stake is not only the value of Restellinis scholarship, but also the credibility of a host of Modigilianis owned by some of the worlds top collectors. Daniel Levy, Restellinis US counsel, says his catalogue will admit around 80 Modiglianis not included in Ceroni and omit “at least 15 paintings listed in the Ceroni catalogue”, such as the Comte Wielhorski (1916, Ceroni number 151) and Beatrice Hastings Seated, which he deems not to be right. It will also, Levy says, “correct more than 50% of the dates of paintings contained in the Ceroni” based on “extensive research” and limit Modiglianis entire production to around 350 works.

Restellinis complaint claims the “reliance on Ceronis flawed catalogue raisonné has caused substantial problems in the market for Modigliani works”. Without naming Christies or the painting, it says that in November 1997 and again in November 2019, “a major New York auction house” sold a work that was presented as being “entirely by the hand of Modigliani”. The complaint states it sold in 1997 for $2.6m and last year for an under-estimate $4.8m (with fees).

In accepting and authenticating the work, the complaint claims, the auction house “relied substantially on the fact that this work was included in the Ceroni catalogue raisonné” and represented it as “authentic despite, among other derogatory information about the work, indications in Modigliani literature and other catalogues raisonnés, which the Auction House had consulted, that the work had been modified after Modigliani completed the work in or about 1915 and provided it to one of his Paris dealers”.

Following the 1997 sale, Restellini says he informed Christies that the work “was not in the same form and appearance” as it was in 1915, showing the auction house a photograph from Guillaumes archives as evidence. Restellini did not see the painting in person at Christies at the time, nor did he see it in November last year.

Unfinished business

The Art Newspaper has compared two reproductions of the work published in catalogues raisonnés of 1953 and 1958, between which the portrait of Beatrice Hastings Seated was owned by a collector in Milan (where Ceroni also lived). In Gualtieri di San Lazzaros Modigliani catalogue raisonné of 1953, the black-and-white photograph illustrating Beatrice Hastings Seated, which has been cropped so the signature cannot be seen, appears to show areas left unfinished. In the photographs used in Ceronis 1958 catalogue and again in Christies 2019 catalogue, the background of the painting appears more finished, the table and green vase on top of it painted in, and the shadow behind the sitters head seemingly a different shape.

The image in San Lazzaros 1953 catalogue raisonné shows unfinished areas Modigliani par San Lazzaro,Editions du Chêne (1953)

Christies included the San Lazzaro listing in the lot literature in the 1997 and 2019 catalogues, alongside the works inclusion in John Lanthemanns 1970 catalogue raisonné, in which the author writes: “This magnificent painting has undergone retouching (as shown in an old photograph).” But no mention of these modifications is made in the Christies description.

The portrait of Beatrice Hastings has made an appearance in the press before. In 2004, Marc Spiegler wrote in Artnews that in 1997, Restellini “declared the work a genuine Modigliani that had been badly compromised by extensive overpainting”. Restellini told Spiegler: “It had been transformed by someone else to make it more marketable. I showed Christies the original works photograph from the Paul Guillaume archives and said I could never include the painting as it stands today, because to me that is fake.” A Christies spokeswoman responded at the time: “While somewhat restored, the paintings condition was not atypical of works by Modigliani, and therefore the house stands behind Ceronis attribution.”

When contacted by The Art Newspaper in August, Christies declined to comment as it is not a party to the Restellini v. WPI complaint.

Levy says: “Christies relied on the fact that this work was included in the Ceroni catalogue raisonné in selling the painting in 1997. Shortly after the first sale, Mr. Restellini informed Christies that the work was not in the same form as Read More – Source

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