Photo on top: Recumbent Nude, 1971
AMEDEO CLEMENTE MODIGLIANI
Photo on the bottom: Jeanne Hebuterne in front of a door1919
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was an example of a tragic artist. Born to a bourgeois family in Italy, he later shunned his academic upbringing and willingly devolved himself into a poverty stricken vagabond. He was formally educated as a life painter in his teens, quickly developing a life-long infatuation with nudes. In 1902 he moved to Florence to study at the “Academia di Belle Arti” (Academy of Fine Arts), at the “Free School of Nude Studies,” and short afterwards, in a he moved to Venice as a fledgling artist, where he smoked hashish for the first time. It was only after he discovered narcotics that he developed the philosophical belief that the only path to creativity was through defiance of social norms and disorder in life. Thus began a life long affliction with corrupted beauty, which would conclusively end with his untimely death and the suicide of his grief-stricken wife and their unborn child.
Modigliani was diagnosed tuberculosis from his early ages, and was constantly stricken by his deteriorated health, which may be one reason why he was so willingly engaged in self-destructive behavior. Living in Paris, he had affairs with women, drank heavily, smoked hashish, and drank absinthe. In a drunken come, Modigliani would often strip naked at social gatherings. He was against all of the excesses of a Bourgeois lifestyle, and thus stripped them from his life, even destroying paintings that he had made in his earlier years.
Nevertheless, Modigliani intentionally created a life in which chaos, poverty, and doom lurked in every corner, he was a luxuriant personality and artist. He sketched furiously, making over hundreds of drawings and sketches in a very limited time of a day or a week. However, many of these works were either lost, given away, or in some cases, destroyed by Modigliani himself. His favorite genre has always been the human form, painting the likenesses of other artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Max Jacob, and Juan Gris, who all sat for the artist. His formal works are characterized with protraction of the human form and shapes and mask-like faces, and his work is so unlike any other of his time that it still defies classification. During his time, other artists emulated him by engaging in a self-destructive lifestyle, and today, his legacy lives on in nine novels, a play, a documentary, and three feature films.
” I would like my life to be like a rich river flowing joyfully on Earth “
– Amedeo Modigliani –
Modigliani is well known as a painter, before his death at thirty-five, Amedeo Modigliani also created impressive sculptures and drawings. However, the legend of his troubled life and early demise – and the subsequent suicide of his young fiancée, Jeanne Hébuterne – has significantly overshadow his artistic achievement.
As author Arthur Pfannstiel wrote in 1929; “The life of Modigliani, wandering artist, so often resembles a legend it is difficult to determine fact from fiction”
What remains of this extraordinary man is a body of work that modernized figurative painting. Often characterized by their elongated bodies and blank eyes, his subjects are distincively ‘Modigliani’, each telling a different story about his life and art.
And finally, we would like to bring Five Important things about Modigliani that you would be curious to know.:
MODIGILIANI’S NUDES WERE VERY CONTROVERSIAL
For his first and only solo exhibition, Modigliani painted a series of nudes, which are now among his most famous paintings. Legend has it that the nudes drew such a crowd around the gallery that it eventually caught the attention of a police officer. The officer was offended, not so much by their nudity as by the fact they displayed pubic hair, and promptly ordered them to be taken down. Whether or not this actually happened, the exhibition certainly caught the imagination of the public, and build up to Modigliani’s reputation and image as a scandalous playboy personality.
In addition, Modigliani’s ‘modern women’ are a symbol of sexuality and defiance. Their unapologetic stares and poses convey women in control of their bodies and their livelihoods (models at the time earned relatively good money). This, in itself, made a real statement.
MODIGILIANI LOVED POETRY
Modigliani was said to regularly recite Dante and other poets from memory. He also painted a number of well-known contemporary poets and writers including Blaise Cendrars, Guillaume Apollinaire and Jean Cocteau.
His favourite text was the Les Chants de Maldoror by the Comte de Lautréamont (Isidore-Lucien Ducasse) which he carried everywhere in his pocket. The reason for his obsession with this particular text may be due to the connections with his own life. Ducasse was anecdotally remembered as a ‘diseased genius’ and a ‘loner’. Modigliani may have felt that this loner poet reflected his own unpredictable moods and outsider status as an Italian Jew in Paris.
MODIGILIANI’S SCULPTURES MAY BE MADE FROM STOLEN STONE
For a few years of his life Modigliani abandoned painting to focus on sculpture. He was even chosen to exhibit in the Salon d’Automne in 1912, a great honour for a young artist at the time. However, given his financial difficulties, biographers have wondered how Modigliani somehow figured to afford the expensive materials required to make these works.
It is quite possible that an array of other sculptors at the time, at times he ‘borrowed’ stone to support his practice. Montparnasse, where he lived, was one of the last areas of Paris to be renovated, with a wealth of limestone set aside for its building sites. It is possibly not a coincidence that Modigliani’s series of Heads are carved from the same type of rock.
MODIGLIANI WASN’T AFRAID TO SPEAK HIS MIND
In 1918, Modigliani and his partner, Jeanne Hébuterne, visited the famous Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Probably believing Modigliani would be complicit in a little misogynistic banter, Renoir confided that he did not believe a painting of a nude was finished unless he felt the urge to slap her backside. Instead of laughing along, Modigliani replied bluntly ‘I don’t like buttocks’.
This was an unexpected reaction from a man known for his active love life and paintings of confrontational nudes. His alleged response is an example of how, so often, Modigliani is an artist who surprises his viewers and defies expectations. Looking at the many portraits he created in his short life, it is easy to perceive that Modigliani painted with empathy and respect.
Modigliani loved to draw from life. Although sometimes he may have used photographs for reference, more often, his paintings started with him working directly from a model. He was an obsessive draughtsman, often pulling out paper and pencil in cafes or on the street, in an exercise that has been described as ‘graphic gymnastics’. These drawings became crucial preliminaries to his masterwork paintings, as well as items he could try and exchange for goods when short of money.