Hidden sketches have been discovered inside a painting by Jewish Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani.
Modigliani painted and sculpted in France in the 1910s, until his early death in 1920, at the age of 35. His art, mostly portraits and nudes in surreal, elongated cubism, weren’t well-received until after his passing, but today he’s regarded as one of the 20th century’s icons of the Modernist style.
His painting “Reclining Nude” sold for over $170 million at auction in 2015, one of the most expensive paintings ever sold, and there is a thriving market of forgeries. A state-sponsored Modigliani art show in 2017 was closed early in a storm of forging accusations, and the criminal trials lasted nearly five years.
“Nude with a Hat” is an oddity, even in his strange body of work. The canvas was used on both sides, but painted opposite to one another. It hangs in the middle of a room at the Hecht Museum in Haifa, and guests entering the room are met with an upside down nude portrait, all elongated limbs and defined shapes. On the reverse, a (clothed) portrait of Maud Abrantes, a friend of Modigliani, is right-side-up.
In 2010, a keen-eyed curator noticed the eyes of a third figure showing from beneath the paint, but they couldn’t investigate until 2018. New X-ray technology was used to take a good look, and they found not one more portrait, but three. A woman wearing a hat, a man, and another woman with her hair up. Five paintings, a single canvas.
The three painted-over portraits are all sparse and unfinished. Hidden sketches, painted over when the artist was unsatisfied for whatever reason, to preserve canvas. He likely never meant for them to be seen, but modern technology knows no secrets.
Inna Berkowits, an art historian at the Hecht Museum who is enchanted by the hidden sketches, calls it “a sketchbook on a canvas.”
“Through the X-rays, we are really able to make this inanimate object speak,” she told The Associated Press.