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Scientist-identified Modigliani self portrait from private collection for sale

About the painting

The famous self-portrait of the painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani from 1919, today in the possession of the Museo de Arte in Sao Paulo has been considered his only one. Now scientists in Germany and in France helped by means of scientific methods to clear up the authenticity of another Modigliani self-portrait coming from the artist's first creative period in Paris.

The privately owned work shows Modigliani as he is known from photographs taken soon after his arrival in Paris. It comes from France and was initially thought to have been painted in 1919 by Modigliani's beloved Jeanne Hébuterne and was shown as painted by her in several Modigliani exhibitions and became known as "Homme au chapeau" - Portrait of Amedeo Modigliani by Jeanne Hébuterne. Scientific and technical studies of the painting, as well as the portrayal of the sitter - representing the young ambitious and selfconfident Modigliani according to his appearance when he came to Paris in 1906 – however revealed that the portrait must have been painted considerably earlier than in 1919, when Modigliani's physiognomy already had changed dramatically due to his disease, leading to his death only one year later, and that Jeanne Hébuterne could not be the work's creator, but possibly Modigliani himself.
To determine the actual author extensive investigations on the painting have been carried out with the help of renowned scientists in Germany and in France. Their results as a whole confirm the assumption that it is an unrecognised work from Modigliani's first creative period in Paris. It thus represents one of those lost early works of whose existence and later discovery Ceroni was also convinced as can be seen from his comments to his catalogue.

Structure of the contribution


Authenticating a painting to Modigliani must be considered one of the most difficult tasks for art historians. Their co-operation with qualified scientists who can look not only onto but also under and between the paint layers by means of the most modern high-tech instruments is indispensable and opens up many possibilities of which the study on hand of a work coming from the artist's early years in Paris is intended to be an example.

Opinions about the attribution of a work of art are rarely undivided, especially when a work by Modigliani is concerned and for some experts, jealously guarding their sinecures, it will be too hard to accept that a hithero unknown self-portrait of the artist could be discovered without them having been involved. It is not only for them that it is time to recognise that with the help of today's methods and techniques, new discoveries are also possible in the work of Modigliani. Demonstrating this is one aim of this contribution which is also intended to encourage greater trust in the results of scientific and technical research when it comes to works by Modigliani instead of relying solely on Ceroni's catalogue, which cannot meet today's high academic demands on a Catalogue Raisonné and moreover, can be regarded as neither complete nor exhaustive.

Comparison of the scientific studies

Two important studies on paintings by Modigliani have been made to provide some fundamental principles about his work and the material used: the first one in 1981 by Laboratoire de Recherché des Musées de France and as the second one the Modigliani Technical Research Study initiated by Tate Modern of London in 2017. Both studies were focused on the examination of the pigments and the canvases, but also on the artistic conception and the style of painting. Even if the second one as a result of the use of today's technique has brought  some more informative findings, it was however restricted to works coming from the artist's more established years. The reason given by Tate Modern of London was that Modigliani's frequent change of style and technique renders the comparison of works from his first creative period more challenging. The work presented here is such a work coming from this first, hitherto little noted and studied creative period. Notwithstanding that this period should be better researched in the future, it can be stated at this point, that the comparison of the results of the examinations  gained from the painting's meticulous investigations of scientific and technical nature by institutions of renown in Germany and in France with those which were detected within the two studies mentioned before does show that there is any factor that would make the presented work inconsistent with Modigliani on the grounds of dating, pigments or physical structure.

Results of the scientific and technical investigations

As for the pigments could be stated that they are in absolute agreement to those described for the French study and also to those that were found within the Tate project. For the binder linseed oil was detected which is fully polymerised and evenly aged according to its spectroscopic data.

Summary of the results of scientific nature and their comparison with the results of the other studies

All results found within the investigation of the work are congruent in each and every respect to those gained by the French study from 1981 and to those which come from the more comprehensive Modigliani Technical Research Study initiated in 2017 by Tate Modern in London and which are deemed to represent key elements to indicate Modigliani authorship.

Empirical comparison

Scientific analysis should always be understood in context. It is for that reason that the combination of scientific and technical procedure with the empirical-comparative method which attributes paintings to individual artists leads to an authentication procedure of high accuracy. With this in mind the work under discussion was also researched for significant features. Those which were found form together in some ways a canon of recurrent identifying hallmarks for Modigliani as can be seen by comparison with doubtless works of the artist. A few of them are shown in the following.

Comparison of style and technique

Inviting comparison with the great tradition of Italian portraiture the artist places himself in a classical composition perfectly in the centre of his canvas in a front view. His choice of colours deriving from the easel painting of the High Renaissance that he had studied in Florence and in Venice reminds of his Italian origin, too. Hence the colours complement with each other and create an overall balance giving the painting its subtle beauty.  But even if the painting reflects still Modigliani's Italian tradition his great admiration for Cézanne as a portraitist can also be seen by comparison of the work with Cézanne's  "Smoker" of 1891 and his "Boy in a red waistcoat" to be compared with the x-radiograph.

Style critical notes

The influence of Cézanne is eminent as can be seen by the organisation of the background and the painting technique. The canvas is heavily painted in thick pasty pigment, partly wet in wet, partly by overlapping layers applied what gives material density to the work akin to those of Cézanne's early portraits. The brushstrokes seem to be borrowed from him using fine hatching brushstrokes of similar size as they were developed by Cézanne. Those "constructive brushstrokes" as they are called can be seen running across the left cheek and the forehead of the sitter.

Further noteworthy are recurring stylistic features such as the "framing" by the use of ocre to define the edges of the sitters face remaining consistent throughout the entire career of Modigliani and his use of "dotted lines".

Typical for Modigliani's early works are hasty nervy stokes of the brush as they have been found in the work discussed and in some more of his works from that time.

Hidden portraits

Hidden portraits have been found in several paintings by Modigliani. The work presented here also holds such a special feature as to be seen by sharp eye in the top right hand corner of the canvas. Blurred with brushes of colour there can be found the head of a bearded man with deep set dark eyes remembering the sculptor Brancusi as he is known by an ink study by Modigliani from the Paul Alexandre Collection and  from the more prominent study on the backside of Modigliani's "The Cellist" of 1909.


Fingerprints could be found in at least eight paintings by Modigliani but in no case it is possible to 100% confirm that they belonged to Modigliani because fingerprints and DNA-Traces provide absolute certainty for authenticity only when authenticated by a matching record in a database. For Modigliani comparable examples however do not exist for what reason even the fingerprints as they could be detected in the given work by UV-image do not confirm with certainty to belong to Modigliani.

But their detection not in the varnish but instead in the original layer of paint - meaning that the artist may have picked up the artwork while the paint was still wet - make their connection with Modigliani highly credible. This assumption is reinforced by the fact that the work  involves additional colours having been hastily applied at the very spot where the overpainted portrait which is believed to depict Brancusi could be found and whereas well the fingerprints have been detected.

Modigliani "Homme au chapeau" - Overpainted portrait of Brancusi and UV-image by Gemäldegalerie Berlin with fingerprints


The portrait discussed is not only a presentment of Modigliani's individualistic personality but even more a proof of his ability to carve out and to identify the soul of the depicted subject, in this case of his own. To his noble appearance there is neither arrogance nor pride that probably both could have been expected corresponding with his true personality. On the contrary there is a certain melancholy and a pensive sadness in his view like feeling lost and asking himself what the future might hold.

"Modigliani sought to express the inner self of his models" said Paul Alexandre and there is no better example of this than his self-portrait discussed showing his own internal psychology at a time when he was looking to find his place in Paris.


The contribution convincingly shows that the facts and arguments in favour of the attribution to Modigliani hold together perfectly. They provide irrefutable evidence that the painting discussed has all elements to proclaim the work as being painted by Modigliani stemming from  his first creative period in Paris. The incompletely obscured Brancusi portrait indicates more precisely to the years of the beginning of the friendship of both artists by 1907 / 1908.

This is also the opinion of Modigliani specialist Parisot, who still can be considered the best for the artist's painted work. His authentication of the work is based on the results of the painting's scientific examinations. This also applies to the inclusion of the work in his Catalogue Raisonné Modigliani Tome V of 2012, where the work is presented and discussed in detail on several pages.

Complete contribution

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