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...

Read more about the hidden meanings in more of the paintings in Skyfall HERE.


  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.

    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!

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

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

  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!


    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!

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

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

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

  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.

    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.

    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....

    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).

    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.

    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?

  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. :)

  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. :)

  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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  11. كل هذه الخدمات التي تحصل من خلال افضل شركة تنظيف بالرياضالتي تسعى الى تقديم افضل الخدمات المنزلية المميزة لكل من يرغب في التعامل مع شركة ركن البيت التي تقدم خدمات جيدة فلماذا شركة تنظيف فلل بالرياض
    ؟ لكي يتم التخلص الاتربة والاوساخ والبقع التي توجد بفلتك فهناك الكثير من الاعمال التى تقوم بها نظافة فعندما تتعامل معنا في شركة تنظيف خزانات بالرياضستحصل علي خدمات جيدة لانها تعتمد على اليات تساعد فى الحصول على افضل النتائج الجيدة التي لا تلاقها في الشركات الاخري وبالاضافة الي ذلك يوجد لدينا خدمات اخري يمكنكم متابعتنا عليها من خلال شركة تنظيف مسابح بالرياض - شركة تنظيف منازل بالرياض - كما سوف نساعدك علي التخلص من مشاكل الصرف الصحي بواسطة شركة تسليك مجاري بالرياضالتي تعطي لكم اليات حديثة تساعد علي التخلص من الروائح الكريهة التي تاتي اليكم وهناك حلول لمشاكل التسربات التي ياتي من خلالها الكثير من المشاكل للمباني بوااسطة شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالرياضالتي تقدم لكم اجهزة الكشف الحديث بدو تكسير وسنوفر عليكم مشاكل نقل الاثاث المتعبة التي عاني من الكثيرون بسبب المشاكل التي سبتها الشركات الاخري فتعاملك مع شركة نقل اثاث بالرياض سوف يصلك اثاثك مع تعبئة سليمة ومغلفة الي باب بيتك الجيدة واذا يوجد صيانة في منزلك الجديد وتتطر الي البحث عن شركة تخزين اثاث بالرياضلحفظ الاثاث الخاص بكم لحين الانتهاء من مشاكلكم السابقة

  12. Wonderful observation and very nice and interesting article. Thank you so much

  13. Great art work. Thanks for sharing.

  14. شركة الغدير تعد من اهم شركات تنظيف المكيفات على مستوى مدن المملكة العربية السعودية فالشركة تمتلك من الكوادر التى جعلتها أفضل شركة تنظيف مكيفات بالدمام والتى تقدم العديد من الخدمات المتعلقة بالمكيفات ومن ابرز ما تم تقديمة فى التكييف ( صيانة المكيفات ، غسيل المكيفات ، تركيب المكيفات ، تعبئة الفريون ) والشركة تفعل خدماتها لمختلف انواع المكيفات مثل السبلت والمركزى والدكت والمخفى والصحرواى والشركة لديها أفضل فنى مكيفات فلبينى فى الصيانة وكل مدينة فى الشرقية يوجد فرع مخصص فى صيانة وتنظيف المكيفات مثل ( الدمام والخبر والظهران والقطيف وعنك وسيهات وصفوى وام الساهك والجبيل والهفوف وبقيق والرياض .
    شركة تنظيف مكيفات بالرياض هى الشركة الام فى غسيل المكيفات وتنظيف المكيفات
    من اهم شروع شركات تنظيف المكيفات
    1- شركة تنظيف مكيفات بالخبر تعد افضل شركة غسيل المكيفات بالخبر وتغطى كافة انحاء احياء الخبر ( العزيزية والعقربية الدانة والحزام الزهبى ) وخدماتها غسيل المكيفات وصيانة التكييف
    2- شركة تنظيف مكيفات بالقطيف تعد افضل شركة صيانة المكيفات فى القطيف وتوفر خدمات عروض تنظيف المكيفات وافضل سعر نظافة المكيفات
    3- شركة تنظيف مكيفات بالاحساء تعد هى افضل شركة غسيل المكيفات فى الهفوف وتخدم منطقة سلوى وبقيق وكم سعر تنظيف مكيف سبليت تعد شركة تنظيف مكيفات بالقطيف ارخص شركة نظافة مكيفات
    4 - شركة تنظيف مكيفات بالجبيل تعد منطقة الجبيل هى عامود شركات تنظيف التكييف ويوجد محل صيانة المكيفات بالجبيل
    5- شركة تنظيف مكيفات بالظهران وتتيع شركة صيانة المكيفات بالخبر
    6- شركة تنظيف مكيفات بالرياض تعد عامود شركات نظافة المكيفات وتعمل فى مختلف انواع المكيفات السبلت والمركزى والداكت
    7- شركة تنظيف مكيفات بالدمام عامود شركات صيانة وتنظيف المكيفات ونظافة التكييف
    هناك طلب كبير على صيانة المكيفات وتنظيف التكييف فى فصل الصيف وهو ما قدمته شركات المكيفات من امثلة شركة تنظيف مكيفات بجدة التى تخدم المنطقة الغربية
    درجات الحرارة
    درجة الحراة هى المؤشر الذى يعتاد به فى تنظيف المكيفات والتى تعد من ثمار شركات تنظيف التكييف وعلى نحوكبير من الخدمات
    اهم الادوات التى تستخدمها الشركة فى غسيل المكيفات
    1- كيس تنظيف المكيفات
    - مضخة تنظيف المكيفات
    مادة تنظيف المكيفات ولمتابعة المزيد عبر موقع الشركة
    واصبحت عمليات تنظيف المكيفات من الامور السلسة التى تتبعها شركة تنظيف مكيفات بالخبر
    اهم شركات التنظيف المعمول بها فى المملكة شركة صيانة المكيفات المركزية والدكت والمخفى وغيرها من رواد الشركات العالمية فى التنظيف والصيانة

  15. Apparently the painting in Skyfall is a fake. Still a great movie though!

  16. تركيب بيوت الشعر
    مجالس – بيوت شعر – خيام للفخامة عنوان نستعرض لكم أعمال بيوت الشعر التي تقوم مؤسستنا في عملها بكافة أشكالها وأحجامها المختلفة وذالك لتلبية أحتياجاتها لجلسات الشعر العربية. متوفرة بيوت الشعر بكافة ديكوراتها المختلفة وحسب طلب الزبون وذوقة . مواصفات البيت الشعر1 حديد 2خشب اندونيسي 9ملى 3 عازل حراري 2بوصه4عازل مائي 5عازل وقائي6 الخارجي شعرPVC
    7 بلوستر اسفنح على الجدران للطلب والاستفسار 0557171383 دلاليات يتوفر لد
    مظلات وسواتر الأسطورة نستعرض لكم أعمال الشبوك التي تقوم مؤسستنا في عملها لتوفير أحتياجاتها مثل شبوك المنازل والحدائق وشبوك الحماية وشبوك الارضي الزراعيه .. والشبوك المزخرفة للزينة . معرض صور الشبوك
    تركيب شبوك