Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), an Italian painter and sculptor, was one of the most fascinating personalities of the School of Paris in its heroic years and a mannerist with a personal touch.
Amedeo Modigliani was born on July 12, 1884, in Leghorn to a distinguished, well-to-do Italian-Jewish family. He first studied under Guglielmo Micheli, a minor painter in the Macchiaioli group, and then at the academies of Florence and Venice, where he was greatly influenced by the art of the Renaissance. All his work echoes the painting of the Sienese 14th century, Sandro Botticelli, and the mannerists.
In 1907 Modigliani arrived in Paris, where, in the Montmartre district, he lived a truly bohemian life. He met the avant-garde young artists at the Bateau-Lavoir, an old building where many of them had their studios, and took part in their discussions. His closest friends were Chaim Soutine and Jules Pascin, and at one time he worked with the painter Moise Kisling. Aristocratic, good-looking, and melancholy, Modigliani undermined his health through alcoholism, drugs, and an uninhibited amorous way of living.
Modigliani exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants of 1908. His first sculptures were produced in 1909. That year he went back to Leghorn, returning to Paris in 1910, where he lived for the rest of his life. He moved restlessly from one apartment to another and finally transferred from Montmartre to Montparnasse in 1913, where he continued his bohemian life. He could be found regularly at the Cafédela Rotonde or at the Dôme. Although he came from a rich bourgeois background, he had a genuine feeling for social responsibility. In Paris he was known as Modi, from which abbreviation, by linguistic corruption, the French referred to him (and also to Pascin, Soutine, and Maurice Utrillo) as peintre maudit (cursed painter).
The classically balanced character of Paul Cézanne's mature work impressed itself early (1909) and decisively on Modigliani's sensitive mind. His distinctive style resulted from a combination of his predilection for a musical outline, a thoroughgoing simplification of form, and the impact of African sculpture (to which he was introduced by his friend Constantin Brancusi) with Cézanne's manner of applying thin, translucent paint to canvas. Modigliani's sculptures of 1909-1915 also owe something to African tribal styles.
Modigliani was predominantly a painter of nudes and portraits, first working under the influence of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whom he admired and in whose favorite places he was frequently seen at night. The infinite variety of the human face, its expression as type and individual, the sinuous contours of the female nudes, their ingenious placement within the framework of the picture, the new and unexpected angles from which they were visualized—all these were Modigliani's favorite themes. He was extraordinarily gifted in inventing novel aspects of his subject matter, a great master of variety.
Modigliani's masterpieces were created between 1915 and 1919. It seems that he had matured all at once. In 1918 he took part in a group show at the Berthe Weill Gallery; his nudes provoked a scandal and the police closed the show. The dealer Leopold Zborowski made great sacrifices to enable Modigliani to paint, and at one time the English poet Beatrice Hastings supported him generously. Although helped to some extent by his family, Modigliani was often near starvation, owing to the excesses of his style of living.
Modigliani's health was delicate, and he had to spend the winter of 1918/1919 in Cannes. He returned to Paris in the spring of 1919 for the birth of a daughter borne by his young mistress and model Jeanne Hébuterne. The following winter he contracted tuberculosis and was taken to a hospital, where he died in a charity ward on Jan. 25, 1920.
Modigliani is considered by many to be the greatest Italian artist of the 20th century. Among his masterpieces of painting are the Yellow Sweater (ca. 1919) and Reclining Nude (Le Grand nu; ca. 1919). His portraits are of uniformly high quality, for example, the one of Zborowski. (1916) and the series of Beatrice Hastings and Jeanne Hébuterne. His work, although involved in the advanced developments of Paris, nevertheless remained a direct continuation and fulfillment of the classical Italian tradition. As painter, sculptor, and draftsman, Modigliani had a leading place in the modern movement and was among the few truly great masters of the School of Paris.
James Thrall Soby, Modigliani: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture (1951), gives a general picture of the life and art of the artist. A useful introduction to Modigliani, with good color reproductions and detailed descriptions of the plates, is Alfred Werner, Amadeo Modigliani (1966). Werner's Modigliani, the Sculptor (1962) is an important specialized study. A penetrating biography in depth is Pierre Sichel, Modigliani: A Biography of Amadeo Modigliani (1967). For general background see James Thrall Soby, Twentieth Century Italian Art (1949).
Mann, Carol, Modigliani, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991.
Rose, June, Modigliani, the pure bohemian, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.
Roy, Claude, Modigliani, New York: Rizzoli, 1985. □
MODIGLIANI, AMEDEO (1884–1920), painter. Modigliani was born in Leghorn, the son of a small businessman. One of his brothers, Vittorio Emanuele *Modigliani, was an active Socialist leader. Amedeo studied art in Florence and Venice. In 1905 he went to Paris. While there, though leading a life of dissipation, he learned a great deal from Cézanne, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and from African sculpture. He greatly admired the last and his own sculpture was in a similar simplified abstract style. Despite his many love affairs, his excesses of drunkenness and frequent lapses into illness aggravated by poverty, he managed to produce a substantial body of work within his relatively short career. More than 20 of his sculptures, some 500 paintings, and thousands of watercolors and drawings have survived. Modigliani usually painted single figures with backgrounds only vaguely defined. There are portraits of his fellow artists and of the two women who played leading roles in his life, the English poet, Beatrice Hastings, with whom he lived from 1914 to 1916, and later his wife, Jeanne Hébuterne. His sitters included the streetwalkers of the Left Bank whom Modigliani never made pretty but who always evoke pity. His portraits look as if he had caught the sitter in a moment of utter fatigue, lonely and devoid of glamor or gaiety. Their energy has been drained and their hands dangle limply on their laps. Their heads are inclined and their eyes look listlessly and unseeing, as though staring from another world. His women seem to be constructed of almond shapes connected by cylindrical necks to larger ovoids formed by the rounded shoulders of the upper body.
Modigliani was a superb draftsman and his color sense was fascinating. His sensuous nudes are painted in broad planes of vivid ochre, orange, and earthy hues, surrounded by strong lines. His iridescent tones are achieved by covering thin layers of color with many coats of varnish. In 1917 his only one-man show was a complete fiasco. The police ordered the five canvases of nudes to be removed and this led to a scandal. It was soon after his death that the greatness of his work was discovered and his paintings and sculpture were acquired by leading museums and collectors all over the world.
F. Russoli, Modigliani (Eng., 1959); A. Werner, Modigliani the Sculptor (1962, 1965); J. Modigliani, Modigliani (Eng., 1958). add. bibliography: D. Krystof, Modigliani (Taschen, 2000); A. Kruszinski, Amadeo Modigliani: Portraits and Nudes (2005); J. Meyers, Modigliani: A Life (2006).