Livorno. Two short stays
For a long time there were few or no news about Modigliani’s stays in Livrono: there were no documents written by himself, his mother’s diaries did not give information for that time and the other sources were not certain.
It will be the exhibition “Modigliani, from the collection of Dr. Paul Alexandre” held at Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 1993, that will shed widespread light not only on these periods, but in general on the life and artistic production of the artist. Thanks to some dated letters and postcards, presented in the exhibition, it was possible to place the first stay in Livorno in 1909 and the second in 1913, in which he stayed more in Versilia than in Livorno. In these two stays, although short and probably determined both by the desire to see his family and health reasons, he also worked a little. For example we know that he rented a studio in Via Gherardi del Testa in Livorno, near the Central Market, where he painted “The Beggar” that brought with him in Paris.
The famous legend of the heads sculpted by the artist and then thrown into the ditches of Livorno is placed in these stays. The legend has grown because of the documentary uncertainty and was based on the testimony of Gastone Razzaguta, author of “Virtue of the Labronic Artists” which tells: “Dedo, left as painter, returned also as a sculptor, and showed reproductions of long heads with certain noses, all equally sad. […] Then he disappear like the fog, not without first asking where he could place the sculptures he seemed to have produced. Throw them into the ditch, he was advised.”
In 1984, at Villa Maria (which at the time was the Progressive Museum of Contemporary Art of the city) the centenary of the birth of Modigliani was celebrated with an exhibition. On this occasion the legend regained vigor and it was decided to dredge the ditches to look for these missing heads.
After a few days of fruitless searches, three heads were found, carved in the manner of those of Modigliani, with few tracts and long noses.
The discovery went around the world, television crews and tourists invaded the city and a many distinguished art critic assured that the heads were authentic.
Soon success gave way to the discovery of the truth, a resounding mockery. Three young guys of Livorno confessed, on the pages of a famous Italian newspaper, that they had made one of the heads found, “sculpting” it with a drill. They also demonstrated it on live TV. Even for the other two heads, which were still believed to be true, the real author was revealed: Angelo Froglia, an aspiring artist who claimed to have made them not for a simple joke, as in the case of the boys, but to reveal the persuasive power of the mass media and affect the aura of infallibility of art critics.
This event was a scandal for the world of art criticism, because the critics who expressed themselves in favor of the authenticity were public disproved. There is also a mystery, because recent investigations speak of well-organized actions, instead of personal initiatives.
But there aren’t just these three heads. In 1991 three other heads declared of Modigliani were presented to the press. The heads had been preserved for many years by Piero Carboni. He was the nephew of Roberto Simoncini, a central market vendor to whom Modigliani had given a chest containing these sculptures in 1909, before leaving for Paris. Carboni had found them after the war, in the rubble of his uncle’s house, and had always kept them, only recently guessed that those sculptures could be Modigliani’s work.
The news caused a sensation, but the world of art criticism remained silent.
Carlo Pepi, an important collector, an expert of Modigliani who had founded and directed the Native House of Amedeo Modigliani and worked for the Modigliani Legal Archives, was immediately interested. Among the world’s leading experts in Modigliani, he was one of the few who had spoken negatively about the heads of 1984, but he recognized these as true, as well as two distinguished American art experts called to speak about it. After long legal troubles these heads are officially recognized as true, but they still do not find the right public location.