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Hoax? Rome firm claims new Modigliani

Associated Press Associated Press 19/06/2016

It's a story almost too fantastical to be true: A flea market dealer finds a painting near a subway rubbish bin, submits it to laboratory analysis and emerges convinced he has a Modigliani on his hands.

No one would believe it, given the modernist master is one of the most sought-after and forged artists around.

But a public relations firm in Rome that doubles as the Amedeo Modigliani Institute is claiming a signed portrait of `Odette' could be a real deal. It's putting the work on public view next week saying it hopes to start an academic debate on its authenticity.

"I assure you, this isn't a fake and we are dealing with a discovery," insisted Luciano Renzi, the institute's president and head of an eponymous publicity firm. While acknowledging that experts must make such a certification, he said he wouldn't put it up to critical review "if the institute didn't firmly believe it."

However, the institute has no role or expertise in authenticating Modigliani works, has a financial interest in drumming up publicity for its exhibit, and even the lab it hired refuses to date the painting.

Amedeo Modigliani died in 1920 in Paris at age 35 of tubercular meningitis after a short but intense career that produced masterpieces: portraits, nudes and sculptures, many featuring the distinctive lithe necks of his muses. The most authoritative catalogue of his works, completed in 1972 by critic Ambrogio Ceroni, lists 337 known pieces.

The timing of `Odette's' appearance is certainly suspect: In November, Modigliani's `Nu Couche' ("Reclining Nude") fetched $US170 million ($A230 million) at a Christie's auction in New York, the second highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction. A host of museum exhibits around the globe are planned in the run-up to the 2020 centenary of his death.

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