Thursday, 1 November 2012

That Stolen Modigliani Painting in Skyfall

It was back to the cinema again last night, this time to take my son to see the new James Bond film Skyfall ('not enough car chases').  Which gave me the chance to count the number of times that Q's 'Q' Scrabble mug appears, or to look out for famous paintings.

Read about the paintings included in the scene in the National Gallery HERE, and the painting in Mallory's office HERE, and how they inform the plot.

But there's another painting in the film, seen in the Shanghai section of the film. It's where the beautiful Severine uses a stolen painting as bait in an assassination plot, and the prospective purchaser of the picture is shot.

Here is Severine in front of the painting in the apartment, seen from the window of an adjacent building...

Here's the painting...
 
It's Modigliani's Woman with a Fan painted in 1919.  

And guess what, it really WAS stolen from a gallery in real life - the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, on May 19 2010.  

BBC article here. 

Speculation is that it really did end up in China, too.



So the Bond film uses a real-life stolen painting as the basis of one of Skyfall's subplots. 

This is a device which also was in the first Bond film, Dr No, in 1962, and so it's a way of referencing 50 years of Bond.  Dr No's lair was adorned with Francisco Goya's Portrait of The Duke of Wellington, as a way of expressing the villain's hubristic aspirations (Max Zorin’s desk in A View to A Kill was flanked by Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Napoleon).

  
Fransisco Goya, Portrait of the Duke of Wellington (1812-14)


The Goya portrait was stolen on 21 August, 1961 from the National Gallery in London, in a theft so notorious that the painting would instantly have been recognisable to the cinema audience. That's the same National Gallery where Skyfall Bond first meets Q.  How clever is that?

Now, how many people are going to actually realise from watching the film that there's a plot all about fencing stolen paintings?  I certainly didn't the first time round, and you also have to get to the end and then rewatch the credits to understand all the references within the title sequence to the themes of Bond coming to terms with the death of his parents, and his own ageing and mortality.  

It's a film that takes itself rather seriously, and obviously wants you to see it more than once, by placing all sorts of references and layers within it - a bit like Stephen Moffat era Dr Who.

Plus it's very much a reflection of  the times - an austerity Britain, post-Jubilympic Bond if you like.  It's all Union Jacks, M as British bulldog, iconic blast-from-the-past that's-what-made-British-car-manufacturing-great Aston Martins, backs-against-the-wall in Churchill's bunker with MI6 being attacked from within.  

And whilst the screen is filled with lots of London landmarks and English icons, when they 'lay a trail of breadcrumbs' for the baddie to follow Bond and M up the A9 to Scotland, they end up very obviously in Glencoe.  Glencoe?! Which gives you a sense of a somewhat fractured UK, where one end of the country doesn't know that at the other end, Glencoe very definately isn't at the end of the A9. 

What a pity there weren't more car chases...

20 comments:

  1. Thank you for confirming for me that the painting is indeed a Modigliani. I also didn't know it was stolen so thank you for the link to the BBC article.

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    1. My pleasure, Captain Sparrow.

      Also, if you look at the titles of the different tracks on the film score, then the track that accompanies the scene is called 'Modigliani'. Not that you'd know that just watching the film...

      Of course, the flaw in the stolen painting / assassination plot is that you end up with a masterpiece with a bullet hole through it!

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  2. Thank you for your article. I was wondering which Modigliani painting is in the movie. Was googling and found your post)

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    1. Thank you for letting me know Lily! Glad I could help.

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  3. Very interesting article, thank you. I wish I could create art - water colour, portraits, calligraphy... I have a hard time getting inspired and remaining focused but whenever I see masterpieces, I sigh in admiration and envy. Bravo for living your dream!

    Maria

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    1. Thanks, Maria - that's a very kind and positive vote of confidence!

      Of course you can create art - have you ever thought of photography?

      You don't need a fancy camera - just pick up a good quality digital, put it in your back and take it with you, and take a photo every time you see something that catches your eye. With digital, there's no wastage, so you can just keep snapping.

      Download them onto the computer and see what jumps out at you. Think about what it is that pleases you about the ones that you particularly like. Then go out and take some more!

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  4. What building in London is Bond looking at from the rooftop? Was that St. George's dragon? What aqueduct is that?
    andrewrobertson@me.com

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  5. Saw the movie last night. Very interesting articles, thank you. :) Greets from Croatia.

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    1. My pleasure, Ms Lavinia. Christmas greetings from Scotland!

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  6. Well, the story of the Modigliani painting is funny for several reasons; that "Modigliani" shown in Skyfall is a fake in my opinion. It is of course supposed to be the works recently stolen in Paris. There are many fakes still out there in museums, experts agree on that.
    Second, there were two claimed Modigliani works in the Modern Musee in Paris and but OTHER one is a much better painting and one I believe to be a real Modigliani. I laughed when I heard they stole the one they did—it's not a very good painting, and I'm a huge Modigliani fan.
    Think about this; In fact what would a director do if he thought that one day someone might reveal that I had a fake and thus lose a work worth between 50 to 100 million? Arrange to have it stolen and collect the insurance. And from the latest News, the thieves did in fact destroy the art they took.
    As far as the plot of the movie; why would they need a real painting to attract the victim when he never got more than a glimpse? They easily could have a copy there waiting and not risk damage to whatever they did have. That painting is not that hard to copy at all.

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    1. Very interesting, thanks for that.

      No, I agree, the whole stolen painting sub-plot doesn't quite add up. If the client is assassinated, then the priceless painting ends up with a bullet hole through it!!

      I suppose the thinking is that the client would have the painting stolen to order. If a client wants it, then it doesn't matter if the museum picture is a fake or not - it's what someone is willing to pay for it. Having it in a museum as the 'real thing' instantly gives is provenance.

      As far as the film goes, they needed to have a painting that could be recognisable at a distance. Severine and the painting are, as you know, seen from another tower block through glass, so the painting needs to be large and of a single simple image with bright colours in order to have any chance of being 'read' by the audience. That would narrow down what stolen paintings they could have in that shot, presumably.

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    2. Not correct; provenance is the whole history of ownership and people are often quite through in following the history. But then there are some quite brilliant fakes and very smart con artists. Thinking that ALL the fakes have been discovered is naive. Art Historian Robert Hughes has even told him personally that the Prado knows they have a fake Goya and will not openly say it to anyone or take it down (in his recent book; ROME).
      But my main point is they easily made a fake to get the buyer into the office. And why not strangle to guy there instead of relying on a "maybe" shot from across the way...and is that easier to explain to the police? They really need a scene of dialogue to explain the whole thing because I was confused as hell about that situation. Poor script.
      You're right about the difficulty of seeing the Modigliani; I'm a huge fan and even saw that piece shortly before it was taken and I could not tell what it was...I later read about it! But I stand by my contention that it is not a real Modigliani; I've studied his work for many decades. The other Modigliani in the Musee Modern in Paris is a far better work and sooooo suspicious that the thieves left that one behind! I suspect an Inside job. Broken alarm; plenty of time to roam the Musee and pick out certain works. Hmmmmm....

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    3. Oh Crap; Correction to previous post....Art Historian Robert Hughes has even been told personally that the Prado knows they have a fake Goya but will not openly announce it or take it down (in his recent book; ROME).

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    4. I think the use of this painting isn't part of the Bond story, but part of a more real life. China has no copyright laws, they are vastly skilled in reproducing and manufacturing. IE the 'Volkswagon Beetles I think" comment earlier in the movie. The director probably capitalized on purchasing imitations for the movie to save money. This painting and the cars are subtle pokes at the differences we will all suffer or benefit from as China becomes the worlds dominant economy. Cheap cars, but loss of intellectual property. They contrast each other perfectly.

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    5. Gosh, this is a whole different level of complexity - especially for a scene where you barely notice the painting or what it is at first!

      In Dr No, the painting of Goya's recently-stolen Duke of Wellington was copied over the course of a weekend especially for the film, based on a slide provided by the National Gallery, apparently.

      You're right, China is the world centre for fakes. It's all about levels of artifice... what's real...who's real...who do you trust?

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  7. I noticed this too. In 2011, I entered the Washington Post Peeps Diorama contest with a depiction of the art heist during which the painting was stolen, complete with a "peepized" version of the Modigliani. :) http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/peeps-show-v/2011/04/11/AF3NYHSD_gallery.html#photo=17

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  8. "If the client is assassinated, then the priceless painting ends up with a bullet hole through it!!"

    However, in the film, the painting clearly DOES NOT end up with a bullet in it. If the assassins took pains to make sure that the ammunition and gun combination would not, in fact, damage the painting (notice, no blood splatter either), then the implication is that the painting IS the real Modigliani. Either that or they still had a few more assassinations to get through. :)

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  9. Thanks for posting this, I was up to similar investigations. What I found interesting is the use of the name "Patrice" for the mercenary which is similar to the character in the Ann McCaffrey book "Dragons Dawn". The reference to the white dragons on the way into the casino and the use of "transitions" must certainly be referencing the transition of the world's dominant economic power shifting from the US to China. Hence the mention of depleted Uranium bullets, a strictly American source.

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