Modigliani 'expert' accused of being art's biggest fraud

Christian Gregori Parisot was recognised as an authority on the Italian figurative artist - until he was arrested for forging and fraudulently endorsing dozens of fakes

Milan

On 6 February, collectors with very deep pockets will have a rare opportunity to bid for a major work by Italian figurative artist Amedeo Modigliani. Christie’s auction house in London is making confident noises about the 1919 portrait of the Italian painter’s lover Jeanne Hebuterne selling for as much as £22m.

Modigliani owners are no doubt keeping their fingers crossed for a lucrative sale, for this would suggest the market is bouncing back from a recent, less salubrious, episode which had threatened to knock it for six.

Before Christmas, shocked modern art experts in Italy spoke of an “earthquake” tearing through their genteel world following the arrest of Modigliani expert Christian Gregori Parisot. If you wanted to check the authenticity of an work said to be by the Italian artist, Parisot was, or had been, your man.

Who better than the art trader who had lived and breathed Modigliani for decades, who met and worked with the painter and sculptor’s daughter Jeanne in the early 1980s? Or at least that was what he’d have you believe. In reality the case of Mr Parisot has revealed a remarkable degree of gullibility in the art world – and has called into question the ease with which people are able to assume the role of trusted authority.

Parisot, with his impressive-sounding title of President of the Archives Legales Amedeo Modigliani, organised Modigliani exhibitions around the world. And his say-so was enough to decide whether a sketch, painting or sculpture was the real thing. He had even worked as a consultant for the Italian state’s Cultural Heritage Protection agency, charged with the protecting the country’s important artistic heritage from con men and charlatans. Officials were forced to admit as much last month when he was arrested for forging and fraudulently endorsing dozens of fake Modiglianis.

 Along with Parisot and his suspected accomplice, the art dealer Matteo Vignapiano, the police seized 59 fakes including 41 sketches, 13 graphic designs, four sculptures in bronze and an oil painting.

As is so often the case with such extraordinary scams, the clues were there but people only started to notice them after the event. Claudio Strinati, a senior official at the Ministry of Cultureand president of the “scientific committee” of Parisot’s “Modigliani Institute”, has admitted that it had seemed odd that the committee never actually met.

 “Parisot asked me to do this job, years ago,” he said, “But the committee never met, at least to my knowledge, and has never done, [let alone] decided or verified anything. I thought it was strange, but not to the point of imagining illegal activities.”

Modigliani’s pared-down, masque-like faces may have been relatively easy to fake. But given this, it is not unreasonable to expect experts such as Mr Strinati ,who were charged with verifiying his works, to have been more a little more active.

The irony of the situation won’t be lost on students of Modigliani’s tragic life. For while fraudsters have been getting rich on fake Modiglianis. During the artist’s pestilential existence – he died aged 35 when tuberculosis spread to his brain – the destitute alcoholic and drug addict was forced to give away his paintings in exchange for food and only ever managed one solo exhibition in Paris. And that was closed down on the first day following complaints of indecency.

 Italian detectives brought the curtain down on Parisot after raiding a show titled “Modigliani from Classicism to Cubism” at the Archeological Museum in Palestrina, near Rome, in July 2010. It was here that true authorities identified 22 fake Modiglianis.

 The most remarkable fact, however, relates to the conviction Parisot acquired in Paris two years before this major exhibition in a state gallery.

 In May 2008, The Art Newspaper reported how “the art historian and Modigliani specialist Christian Parisot was sentenced to two years in prison with 16 months suspended, and fined €8,000 by a Paris court on 18 April, for faking drawings by Jeanne Hébuterne, Modigliani’s mistress and model”.

The works were seized by the police after Luc Prunet, Jeanne’s great nephew, complained they were forgeries. This was confirmed in a report by the French expert Gilles Perrault.  But even this wasn’t enough for the art world to sit up and take notice.

 No-one is currently answering the phone at the Archives Legales Amedeo Modigliani, in Rome. But other experts are clear about they see as the problem to be. “Any group, entity or individual can set themselves up as “authorities” with pretentious names,” lamented Martin Kemp, a professor of art history at Oxford University and a leading authority on Leonardo da Vinci.

It remains to be seen if the 100 or more bogus Modiglianis that Parisot is thought to have put on the market have dented demand for the artist. There is no doubt that the 1919 portrait of the Italian painter’s lover Jeanne Hebuterne on sale at Christie's is genuine. And Christie’s hopes that if anything, the clamour for genuine works by the Italian artist will have increased. Hence its upbeat predictions for the imminent auction of the key portrait.

Jay Vincze, Christie’s impressionist and modern art specialist, noted that Modigliani produced relatively few paintings during his short life. Perhaps gallery owners and art traders ought to have considered this before they listened to Mr Parisot – and allowed greed to get the better of them.

**

The picture shown above is Amadeo Modigliani’s Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne, an internationally celebrated masterpiece and an unquestionably genuine work by the artist which will be offered at auction on 6 February 2013 at Christie’s, London. We are happy to reiterate the position for complete clarity.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice