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When a Modigliani Almost Changed the Kardashians’ Lives

Rachel Tashjian

Rachel Tashjian

On Season 9 of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kourtney believed she had an authentic portrait by Modigliani. “He’s major.”

On Monday night, Sotheby’s will sell Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), which the auction house describes as “the greatest work from the iconic series in which Amedeo Modigliani reinvented the nude for the Modern era.” Estimated at $150 million, it is the most expensive auction estimate ever. (Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which sold for $450 million last fall, was estimated at $100 million.) Sotheby’s impressionist and modern art department co-head Simon Shaw told the Guardian that the painting’s projected price “reflects the growing love of Modigliani’s work and the significance of this piece in his oeuvre.”

The masterpiece that reinvented the nude for the Modern era is connected—as so many things are!—to the person who reinvented the nude for our era. In a story about why the Modigliani could reach or even exceed its outrageous estimate, artnet reminded us that in a 2014 episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kourtney Kardashian believed she’d discovered a real Modigliani while cleaning out the childhood home of her then-boyfriend Scott Disick. “Our lottery ticket,” Kourtney hums to Khloe and Scott. “It’s a Modigliani. He’s major…If it’s real, our lives are changing.”

Scott is in perfect Scott form: at once the voice of irrational agitation and complete reason. “It’s for SURE a copy,” he says. “There’s no way my parents just had some multi-multi-multi-million dollar painting laying around their house.” After Kourtney suggests it was left there by their house’s previous owners, Scott becomes infuriated: “No one’s leaving a Modigliani around. The last one at Sotheby’s in London sold for like a hundred-and-forty-five-million.” (Inexplicably, he pronounces Sotheby’s “Suh-thur-bee’s.”)

Thus, the couple begins their journey through a classic chapter of the American dream: they believe they may have inherited something priceless or totally worthless, and begin scheming and dreaming wrecklessly. “Let’s just be honest,” Scott says. “This is not happening.” Kourtney begins obsessively waiting for the painting’s arrival from Scott’s parents’ house as Scott grows increasingly agitated with every inquiry. “It’s an ORIGINAL MODIGLIANI,” Kourtney pleads with him. “You’re an original psycho!” Scott replies. He tries to reason with her: “If it was valuable, my Jewish father would have sold it [at auction] and he would have been driving around in 10 Rolls Royces.”

“Well, you can continue to be super casual about this because we are sitting on a fortune,” Kourtney says to him, with all the delusion of a beleaguered Tennessee Williams anti-heroine.

“I’VE ALWAYS BEEN INTO BEING ULTRA RICH! I JUST NEVER BELIEVED IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN THE WAY IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN!”

Finally, the painting arrives. “This painting is the torture of our life,” says Scott, as Kourtney pulls the painting out of a packing popcorn-stuffed box as Kourtney’s cousin Cici looks on. It’s Modigliani-esque, alright: the almond eyes, the penny-sized mouth, the spare background. “You know what, there’s some imperfections—which is okay,” Cici says. “I just think this is fabulous. It’s a masterpiece. It’s a masterpiece! We’re rich!”

“You guys are totally appraisers,” Scott says sarcastically. In the confessional, Kourtney says she’s thankful her cousin is there to share her enthusiasm, while “Scott’s just asking like the neighbor painted this.”

Shortly thereafter, Kourtney shows it to Khloe. “NO! DON’T TOUCH IT!” she screams when Khloe places an acrylic-nailed finger on the maybe-masterpiece. “I’m saying…just look at it.” After a few awkward moments, Khloe, perhaps the only person in touch with reality on television’s greatest reality show, whispers, “What am I looking for?”

Khloe and Kourtney examine the possible Modigliani.

Back in the confessional, Kourtney vents her frustration with everyone’s skepticism. “It could be this life-changing piece of art that’s very treasured in…the pirate ship.” (Whatever that is!)

Finally, Kourtney secures an expert, the late Beverly Hills “celebrity appraiser” David W. Streets (who has been reported more than once on ripoffreport.com for stealing valuables from clients and friends). “Is it just a glance and you know?” Kourtney asks him. “I can pretty much tell,” he says sagely. After a tense commercial break, David delivers the news: “It’s the real thing.”

“It fits every thing: you know he did this kind of muddled strange background and he did it over the faces,” David says. “What I look at are: the brushstrokes, subject matter, signature. All three are dead on.”

Suddenly, Scott’s doubts seem to diminish. Kourtney finds him a few days later examining carpet samples and asks if they’re for his new home. He delivers a maxim we should all live by: “I look at carpet only for aviation and yachts.” When Kourtney asks why he’s “suddenly into this,” he begins screaming: “I’VE ALWAYS BEEN INTO BEING ULTRA RICH! I JUST NEVER BELIEVED IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN THE WAY IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN!”

The tension builds to obscene absurdism. The idea that the Kardashians—who live in Calabasas, a city with a median income of $119,624, and who film each scene sprawled on pristine white couches in endless living rooms, and snacking off giant marble countertops in family room-sized kitchens—are dreaming about getting rich is almost too…rich. But then, this is the arc of American promise, regardless of how much money you have: this idea that something everyone else thinks is worthless or pointless is actually going to make you rich and famous is what has fueled 22 seasons of Antiques Roadshow, is perhaps the foundation of Southern Gothic literature, and is what makes people believe in the American dream to begin with.

At last, Kris calls a real expert in: Scott M. Haskins, art conservator. “I just want a definitive answer before Scott loses his mind and orders a G6 on his credit card,” Kourtney whines in the confessional. Haskins tells everyone he’s “looking for anything that proves it’s not [a Modigliani]. I’m looking for red flags.” While he examines the painting through various magnifiers and gingerly removes a chip of paint (neither of which seem like they’d be standard policy at Sotheby’s or Christie’s), Kourtney scrolls absentmindedly through her phone and tells Scott she’s decided what she’ll do with the money: “We’re feeding children that cannot afford to eat.”

Then Haskins drops some not-so-great news— delicately. “I thought I was coming to look at an oil painting.”

Kourtney: “Ohh.”

“And this is obviously watercolor on paper.”

Kourtney: “Okay.”

“Another thing that’s interesting: this is on cardboard.”

Haskins sends some paint samples into “the lab,” and a week later, Kourtney and Scott receive a manila envelope with—maybe!!!!—the key to their fortune. Kourtney reads the document aloud: “The analysis shows that both the painting and the board on which it was painted contained titanium dioxide…It would appear impossible that he could have painted this. Amedeo Modigliani died years before the pigment was available in France.”

“THE DREAM IS OVER,” Scott yells.

“THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS!”