New York, 14 February 2013, Art Media Agency (AMA).
Modigliani is really sparking controversy these days. The last to date is quite unexpected. A French art dealer is demanding financial compensation – a more elegant word for “ransom” – to disclose information concerning the origin of a Modigliani painting. Let us recall the extravagant episodes of this new affair dealing with the work titled Portrait of a Woman.
On 12 February 2012, Asher Edelman, chairman of ArtAssure Ltd, serving as consultant in this new Modigliani case, released the elements of the complaint registered at the Supreme Court of the New York State by Edinburgh Investments Limited (EIL), current possessor of the portrait, against Sidney Tenoudji, son of a former owner.
Michael D. Dingman, representative of EIL, purchased the painting in 1988 from a New York-based gallery for $1.44m. In 2010, he asked Sotheby’s to value the works of his collection for insurance. Now Sotheby’s experts expressed serious reservation as for the portrait’s authenticity, asking further research to be led concerning its origin. Indeed, not only did the market overflow with fake Modigliani paintings worldwide, but the Ambrogio Ceroni catalogue raisonné – a true reference – did not mention this portrait (in spite of its being mentioned in Joseph Lanthemann’s, published in 1970).
For Michael Dingman, it was the beginning of a paper chase. He first solicited Marc Restellini, director of the Pinacothèque, Paris, and Christopher Gaillard from Gurr Johns in Manhattan, who first valued the work $12m. In his quest, Dingman discovered the identity of the previous owner, thanks to the Smithsonian Institute. Edmond Cohen Tenoudji, famous French cinema producer and art collector, specialised in 19th and 20th-century art, acquired the portrait in 1958 to Parisian gallery David & Garnier. Sotheby’s New York thus sent the painting in Paris, at the Wildenstein Institute. The portrait finally arrived at Sotheby’s Paris, still un-authenticated.
It was then things – that already looked pretty bad – embittered. Indeed, Thom Ingram, representative of the current owner began to search for the heirs of Edmond Cohen Tenoudji, in order to find evidence of the painting’s origin. He then contacted the son of the collector, Sidney Tenoudji. In the beginning of July 2012, the latter’s lawyer informed him of Ingram’s leading inquiry into the company’s historical archives. He soon assured he had found a series of documents establishing the origin of the work, including the authentication certificate from the Galerie David & Garnier, signed on the back of a photograph, as well as a letter establishing the identity of the former owner who inherited the painting in the 1930s. Now on 19 July the lawyer finally stated that he would not disclose their content and that Sidney Tenoudji, after further reflection, considered that these documents’ value should be calculated based on the portrait’s worth, and asserted he would give them away only if compensated by a certain percentage of the painting’s selling price. The heir, smelling a good deal, thus valued the painting $30m, and demanded $5m to disclose the documents, falling to $500,000 after numerous negotiations. Some months later, Marc Restellini was allowed to inquire into the documents in order to authenticate them, in presence of Sidney Tenoudji.
But there was a sudden development on 13 December 2012. The day before the expert’s assessment, Sidey Tenoudji changed position and claimed he would not go, thus questioning the reliability of Marc Retsellini’s judgment, certain that he would not authenticate the documents. Dingman/EIL thus referred to the New York Court, still awaiting the pieces promised by Sidney Tenoudji. For if doubt is allowed when it comes to the painting’s authenticity, what is certain is that the documents without the painting are worthless.