Fake or Fortune? “Modigliani” 30 August 2022: Series 10 Episode 2 on BBC One

Fake or Fortune? "Modigliani" 30 August 2022: Series 10 Episode 2 on BBC One 11

Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould investigate a delicate sketch depicting a mother and child, purported to be by one of the modern art world’s most famous names, Amedeo Modigliani. Its owner, Henrietta Sitwell, inherited the work and always believed it to be genuine. However, a leading auction house recently cast doubt on its authenticity. If the work is genuine, it could be worth up to £100,000. If not, just a few hundred.

Henrietta inherited the sketch from her father, who had inherited it from his father, the writer and art collector Sacheverell Sitwell. Sacheverell was, along with his two siblings Osbert and Edith, a central member of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s and a key figure in the world of British art. A direct connection to such an established and respected name might normally be enough to guarantee the authenticity of a work but, with an artist as regularly forged as Modigliani, it’s not so simple.

Fiona begins our investigation by getting to grips with the world of Modigliani scholarship. Not only are there multiple, contradictory catalogues of the artist’s work, the author of one catalogue has been convicted of forging works by Modigliani. Also, recent high-profile exhibitions have been shut down, with all the paintings seized and destroyed as fakes. In a world with so many pitfalls, can we prove that this is the rare example of an uncatalogued genuine work?

Philip takes the sketch to be examined forensically, chemically testing the age of the paper to see whether it dates from before Modigliani’s death in 1920, at the age of just 35. Armed with further material evidence, he brings the sketch to the Pompidou Centre in Paris to compare it with a known Modigliani sketchbook. Also, we meet with handwriting expert Adam Brand to see whether the dedication and signature match with any of the hundreds of confirmed Modigliani signatures.

Fiona delves deep into the extensive Sitwell family archives to find any hard evidence for the picture’s provenance. The family story is that Sacheverell bought this work sometime after the First World War. Can we find any written proof of this? The picture is dedicated to ‘Zborowski’ – the name of Modigliani’s friend and art dealer Leopold Zborowski. Why would Sacheverell have owned a picture dedicated to someone else? Travelling to the Montmartre streets where Modigliani lived and worked, Fiona outlines the connections between the artist, his dealer and Henrietta’s grandfather.

Back in London, we recreate the 1919 exhibition Sacheverell, his brother and Leopold Zborowski held of modern French artists at Heal’s, the famous department store – an exhibition where dozens of Modigliani sketches were on sale for a few pennies each. Could this have been the moment when a Modigliani sketch, dedicated to his art dealer, found its way into the hands of the Sitwell family?



About Fake or Fortune?

Journalist Fiona Bruce teams up with art expert Philip Mould to investigate mysteries behind paintings.

This show is broadcast on BBC Four, also known as the British Broadcasting Corporation.

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