Is Modigliani’s Portrait of the Russian Painter Marvena a Fake?

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow is accused of displaying a fake painting by Amedeo Modigliani. The charges come from a leading Russian collector who does not wish to be named, as well as other figures in the Russian art world.

Moscow’s Modigliani Counterfeit ControversyThe discussions about the authenticity of the painting came in 2006. The collector wanted to buy the portrait of Marie Vorobieff-Stebelska (also known as Marvena) for $3 million, but changed his mind after a scientific testing at the Swiss Institute for Art Research. “After 40 days, I got the evaluation back from the Institute, which indicated that some of the pigments used in this painting were synthetic, produced after 1940,” he says. He is now revolted that the fake, as he calls it, is displayed in the Moscow museum as a genuine. The work is on loan from a private collection.

The director of the Pushkin Museum, Irina Antonova, is aware of the allegations concerning the portrait. She thinks the painting is genuine. In addition, she is not concerned about the doubts regarding the authenticity of the work, because these discussions can help reveal new information about the portrait.

Other Russian specialists in the fine arts support the collector’s allegations saying: “It doesn’t look like Marevna at all. This is not typical to Modigliani. You could always find traits of a resemblance in his portraits. Here, they are entirely absent. Furthermore, in her memoirs, Marevna doesn’t mention anywhere that Modigliani painted her portrait.”

These statements are contradicted by the president of the Modigliani Institute in Rome, Christian Parisot, who has the legal right to authenticate Modigliani’s work. He offers various documents, including a declaration by Marevna saying that she posed for Modigliani, and cites the results of scientific tests as proof. “Current chemical and spectrographic tests demonstrate that the support, the canvas and all the colors used in this painting are of the period of the artist, and are comparable to those of other paintings by Modgiliani,” he says.

Christian Parisot adds that there is no scientific research from any laboratory claiming otherwise. In addition, he supports that one of the most respected scholars of Modigliani, Ambrogio Ceroni believed the work to be genuine. Furthermore, the art specialist has a declaration by the scholar’s widow Angela Bernardelli Ceroni, dated 19 June 1980, stating that Ceroni, who died in 1970, had authenticated the portrait.

The Modigliani Institute also points out that the painting was attributed to the artist when it was shown in 1983 at the Musee Bourdelle in Paris, when Marevna was still alive.

Who was Marevna?

Modigliani painted a series of portraits of contemporary artists and friends while he was in Montparnasse. Among these artists was Chaim Soutine, Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera and Marevna. The painting with “Marevna” was included in a show at an extensive Modigliani exhibition “Amedeo Modigliani,” that opened in 2010 and ran until February this year at the Municipal House in Prague. This work is believed to be on the market, priced at €9 million.

“Marevna,” as she was called, was a Russian painter who also lived a great part of her life abroad. In France, she had her formative years as a cubist. In England, she lived towards the end of her life. Marevna is said to be the first female cubist. She is known for combining elements of cubism with pointillism. She had a relationship with the Mexican painter, Diego Rivera, that ended after their daughter, Marika Rivera, was born in 1919.

About the Author

"In order to learn to draw you must learn to see" is the quote that inspired me to seek beauty in life, not only in art. I also may say that life is the best theme in art. I let drawing be only a hobby for me so I would never lose my passion by turning it into an every-day job. That is why I decided to write about art. Cristiana Dumitru lives in Bucharest, Romania, besides art she is also a news presenter on Radio ZU, the national Romanian radio.