Joseph Altounian’s Collection Pays Testimony to Friendship with Amedeo Modigliani

Joseph Altounian(on the left) and Joseph Brummer(in the centre), travel in Egypt, 17 March 1912. Familial archives

Joseph Altounian has long been regarded as one of the most renowned antique dealers of the 20thcentury, coming from a long line of antique dealers. Now his family will be showcasing his remarkable collection in an Artcurial auction on 17thand 18th September in Paris, taking place during the Paris Biennale, and featuring 400 pieces from the collection.


The pieces create a dialogue between Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Haute Epoque and Modern Art and varies between art objects, sculptures and furniture. The Joseph Altounian collection shows the family’s rich and diverse history as well as a shared passion by him and three generations of antique dealers.

Interior of the Altounian family house in Mâcon. All images: © Artcurial

Altounian and Modigliani

Born in Armenia, Altounian moved to Paris in the early 1900’s, becoming a member of an avant-garde set with the likes of Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Guillaume Apollinare and Max Jacob.

This collection shows never-before-seen evidence of the relationship between Altounian and Modigliani, who became firm friends during their time in Paris. It appears that Altounian had a keen eye which complemented Modigliani in his complex ideas for paintings and drawings.

It is no surprise that some of the most anticipated works to be sold at Artcurial consists of six pieces by Modigliani.

These include the well-recognised sculpture Tête (1911-1912) and the pencil on paper drawings of Femme Endormie (1916-1917), L’Estatico (1916) and Madame Minouch (1916).

The works are instantly recognisable for the artist’s favoured characteristics of the lengthening of necks and faces in his portraits.


The sale features a significant array of statues; Egyptian pieces, such as a wooden statuette of an Egyptian dignitary (Egypt, Meir Necropolis, Middle Kingdom, 11th – 12th dynasty, estimate: €50,000 – 60,000) and an ancient Egyptian scribe in limestone (Egypt, Saite period, early 26th Dynasty, estimate: €6,000 – 8,000), as well as numerous Roman and Gothic sculptures are a reminder of the pieces that Joseph Altounian sold to the greatest private and museum collections in the world.

But perhaps the most intimate piece being showcased is the 1917 portrait Modigliani drew of his friend Joseph, which is estimated to sell between €50,000 and €70,000.

The Portrait de Joseph Altounian bears a testimony from their fellow pioneering artist and close friend of Picasso, Max Jacob, which states: ‘I certify that this is the portrait done of Altounian by Modigliani in 1917.’

Stéphane Aubert, Auctioneer and Associate Director, Artcurial says: “The Joseph Altounian Collection is a rare testimony of the relationship between the Altounian family of antique dealers and the greatest artists of the 20th century: Auguste Rodin, Max Jacob, Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani, to name a few. Artcurial is proud to unveil this never-seen before collection of the Altounian family who provided the greatest American museums and collectors worldwide. ”

Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Joseph Altounian, 1917, Pencil on paper, Collection Joseph Altounian (Estimate: €50,000 –70,000)


See also:

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