Israeli museum finds sketches hidden in Modigliani painting
The unfinished works by Modigliani, an Italian-born artist who worked in Paris before his death in 1920, came to light after the canvas of “Nude with a Hat” at Haifa University’s Hecht Museum was X-rayed as part of a sweeping forensic study of his work for an upcoming exhibit in Philadelphia.
Inna Berkowits, an art historian at the Hecht Museum, said it was “quite an amazing discovery.”
“Through the X-rays, we are really able to make this inanimate object speak,” she told The Associated Press.
Modigliani is considered one of the 20th century’s great Modernist artists. His lived a short, turbulent, Bohemian life in France, where his nude paintings were controversial. The Jewish artist died aged 35, penniless.
One of his paintings, “Reclining Nude,” fetched over $170 million when it was 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 Modigliani works has generated a thriving market for fakes and forgeries.
In 2018, X-ray technology revealed a previously unknown Modigliani portrait beneath one of his paintings at London’s Tate Gallery.
Modigliani’s 1908 “Nude with a Hat” is already an unusual painting. Both sides of the canvas have portraits that are painted in opposite directions. Visitors entering the Hecht Museum’s galleries are met by an upside-down nude portrait. A likeness of Maud Abrantes, a female friend of the artist, on the reverse side is right-side up.
In 2010, the museum’s curator noticed the eyes of a third figure peeking from beneath Abrantes’ collar. But only this year was the hidden image brought into focus.
In addition to a hidden woman wearing a hat, they found two more portraits on the opposite side that were completely invisible to the naked eye: One of a man, and another of a woman with her hair pulled up in a bun.
The “Nude with a Hat” dates from early in Modigliani’s career, not long after he moved to Paris from Italy, when he was struggling 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, likely painted one atop the other out of necessity to save money on new canvases.