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A Missing Modigliani Takes Center Stage

12 years ago, Sam Mendes arguably gave us this century’s best James Bond film in the form of Skyfall (2012), his bombastic take on Britain’s greatest fictional spy. Skyfall scooped up a couple of Oscars and—spoiler alert—bade farewell to Judi Dench’s icy M, but for art lovers, it was a real treat. 

When Ben Whishaw’s Q and Daniel Craig’s Bond meet for the first time, they sit in front of J.M.W. Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire (1839) and discuss it. “What do you see?” Q asks. “A bloody big ship,” Bond dryly retorts. But The Fighting Temeraire isn’t Skyfall’s most intriguing use of artwork, which would come later.

A Missing Modigliani Takes Center Stage

Modigliani’s Woman With a Fan (1919) in Skyfall (2012). Photo: Screen grab.

Bond travels to Shanghai in pursuit of mysterious assassin Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) and witnesses her luring in a target with a phony art sale. The painting in question? Woman with Fan (1919) by Amedeo Modigliani. This was a replica of a genuine canvas that Modigliani painted, featuring his long-time model Lunia Czechowska. In real life, though, the painting was stolen.

In 2010, thieves targeted Woman with Fan during a heist at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. At the time Skyfall was made, the painting had yet to be recovered. Its theft bleeds into the movie, which sees Sévérine selling a bona fide missing painting. Mendes would nod to the piece of art again, in Skyfall’s follow-up, Spectre (2015). It can briefly be seen in the Moroccan lair of villain Ernst Stavros Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who presumably acquired the lost work.

Amedeo Modigliani, Woman With a Fan (1919), is one of five paintings stolen by Vjeran Tomic in 2010. Collection of the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Amedeo Modigliani, Woman With a Fan (1919), is one of five paintings stolen by Vjeran Tomic in 2010. Collection of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Most intriguingly, the inclusion of the Modigliani in Skyfall pays homage to the first Bond film, Dr. No (1962). In one scene, Sean Connery’s Bond observes Francisco Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington (1814) in the headquarters of Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman). The Goya painting had been stolen from the National Gallery in 1961, a theft similarly pinned on a fictional Bond villain.

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