Modigliani is a popular artist to forgers because people love his work for its unique style, sad portraits, and graceful nudes. Forgers are also attracted to Modigliani’s simple line drawings because they are easy to duplicate. His life was chaotic and brief, with frequent moves and little money. He traded his canvases for rent and meals, and often left pieces behind when he moved. His mistress, Jeanne Hebuterne, committed suicide days after his death, which added to the confusion surrounding his work. In 2002, George Adams of The Art Newspaper wrote, “As a result, there is a historical and documentary void, an open invitation to fakers, particularly as the drawings-often consisting of just a few lines-are easy to copy.”
One such forger was Elmyr de Hory, who was one of the most notorious forgers in the world. He is known for faking Modigliani paintings in the United States during the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. De Hory was a struggling artist who had studied at the Academie la Grande Chaumiere under Fernand Leger. In his attempt to support himself, he discovered he had a talent for copying Picasso, and actually sold one of his creations to a friend who believed it was an original. This inspired de Hory to plot a forgery scam. Some of his fakes became more valuable than the originals.
British experts were fooled by the Keating scandal in the 1970’s. Tom Keating, who was from a poor family in London, decided to avenge himself when his paintings didn’t receive the attention he felt they deserved. Some of his oil paintings and drawings were authenticated as works by Gainsborough, Degas, Boucher, Renoir, Fragonard, Van Dongen, and Modigliani. He claimed to have forged more than 2000 paintings by over 100 different artists. Keating was also an art restorer and a specialist in copying minor works by major artists. Keating probably learned about how to fake paintings through restoring them. He probably uncovered a few secrets in his work. According to Arifa Akbar, arts reporter for The Independent, UK, some of Keating’s tricks to forgery were rubbing soil into the canvas to create a “Braque-esque” finish. He would also use house emulsions mixed with KY jelly. Keating placed his fakes in auction houses throughout the U.K. during the late 1950’s and 60’s.
John Brandler, a Brentwood, Essex-based art dealer, states that Keating thought he was just “as good as Rembrandt, Palmer, Renoir and all the rest of the classic painters…” Keating assumed the styles of Monet, Constable, Gainsborough, and many other artists. He copied their styles so well that his reproductions are difficult to detect. "He was a meticulous painter," says Brandler.
John Myatt is a British artist and considered the greatest art forger of the 20th century. He is estimated to have created roughly 200 forgeries of artists such as Renoir, Picasso, and Modigliani. Myatt worked with an associate who sold the fakes to auction houses and dealers in London, Paris, and New York. Scotland Yard arrested him in 1995.
According to London’s The Independent, “Anyone can copy a painting," said Myatt, “the secret to creating a convincing fake masterpiece was simple: scrutinise the original time and again…You 'hypnotize' the original painting, look at the canvas, the thickness of the paint, the way it's presented. The rule applies to anyone from Rembrandt to Picasso, just learn to look at the original, stand in front of it.” Myatt stood in front of a painting for at least 20 minutes to get a mental image of it, then went home quickly to start painting. To begin with he starts on the composition. He then works on the color and texture, and how the paint is applied. The signature is the last thing he works on. He practices a signature for hours before attempting it on the painting.
Myatt based one of his paintings on Modigliani’s Reclining Nude. "When I was looking at Modigliani's nude, I was also looking at paintings by 18th-century French artists such as Fragonard and Boucher. I thought I could create a 'Modigliani-ised' nude of a girl with a beautiful bottom, the most wonderful bottom in the history of bottoms. So I used Fragonard's erotic subject matter with Modigliani's style to create a sexier version of his work…I researched how he created figurative work - he started from the head down - which is how I did it. I also practised his signature again and again, which is sometimes the hardest thing to get right." Myatt would put his forgeries in old frames.