” …there are experts and then there are experts, and they come in varying degrees of credibility.” So writes Milton Esterow about keepers of the canon in the art world, particularly those devoted to Pablo Picasso’s contemporary, Amedeo Modigliani. (“The Modigliani Code” by Milton Esterow, Vanity Fair, May, 2017, pg.138.) Millions of dollars rise and fall based on the opinions of these professionals and sometimes, because of that authority, they live in fear of their lives. One such person is Marc Restellini. The Wildenstein Institute hired him to develop a definitive catalog of the Modigliani’s drawings. He soon gave up, however, when collectors, fearing they owned fakes, began to threaten him. (Ibid, pg. 139.)
Ambrogio Ceroni, an Italian appraiser who died in 1970, was considered among the most knowledgeable of Modigliani experts. He complied two catalogues on the artist’s “oeuvre” but failed to lists works sold in the United States. Nor did he include drawings Modigliani gave away to pay his bills. With no definitive catalog in existence, forgeries abound. One authority speculates there may be as many as 1000 forgeries currently posing as originals. (Ibid, pg. 139)
One man, Elmyr de Hory, knocked off Modigliani look-alikes regularly, until he committed suicide in 1976 at the age of 70. Today, his personal art sells for between $2,000 to $3,000. Many believe some of his forgeries reside in prestigious galleries and private collections and are valued at millions of dollars
Christian Parisotis has written severaldefinitive books on Modigliani. Unfortunately, he went to jail twice for knowingly authenticating works that were fakes. (Ibid pg. 138.)
As we approach the 100 anniversary of the artist’s death, there are those who plan to complete that necessary catalog of his career. A few museums have agreed to submit their inventory for authentication. Others have demurred, promising, instead, to “closely examine their own Modigliani’s.” (Ibid, pg. 112.) But can one trust in-house authentication? Will institutions really come forward to tell their patrons they paid millions of dollars for a forgery by Elmyr Hory?
What is fake? What is real? That conundrum is the central question of my novel, Trompe l’Oeil. Only one truth is certain. No matter our social strata, fakes exist among us.