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Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (July 12, 1884 –
January 24, 1920) was an Italian artist who worked mainly in France. Primarily a figurative
artist, he became known for paintings and sculptures in a modern style characterized by
mask-like faces and elongation of form. He died in Paris of tubercular meningitis,
exacerbated by poverty, overwork, and addiction to alcohol and narcotics. Modigliani was
born into a Jewish family in Livorno, Italy. A port city, Livorno had long served as a
refuge for those persecuted for their religion, and was home to a large Jewish community.
His maternal great-great-grandfather, Solomon Garsin, had immigrated to Livorno in the 18th
century as a refugee.
Modigliani was the fourth child of Flaminio Modigliani and his French wife, Eugenia Garsin.
His father was a money-changer, but when his business failed, the family lived in poverty.
Amedeo's birth saved the family from ruin, as according to an ancient law, creditors could
not seize the bed of a pregnant woman or a mother with a newborn child. The bailiffs entered
the family's home just as Eugenia went into labour; the family protected their most valuable
assets by piling them on top of her.
Modigliani had a close relationship with his mother, who taught him at home until he was
ten. Beset with health problems after an attack of pleurisy when he was about eleven, a few
years later he developed a case of typhoid fever. When he was sixteen he was taken ill again
and contracted the tuberculosis which would later claim his life. After Modigliani recovered
from the second bout of pleurisy, his mother took him on a tour of southern Italy: Naples,
Capri, Rome and Amalfi, then north to Florence and Venice.
His mother was, in many ways, instrumental in his ability to pursue art as a vocation. When
he was eleven years of age, she had noted in her diary:
“ The child's character is still so unformed that I cannot say what I think of it. He
behaves like a spoiled child, but he does not lack intelligence. We shall have to wait and
see what is inside this chrysalis. Perhaps an artist?" Modigliani is known to have drawn and
painted from a very early age, and thought himself "already a painter", his mother wrote,
even before beginning formal studies. Despite her misgivings that launching him on a course
of studying art would impinge upon his other studies, his mother indulged the young
Modigliani's passion for the subject.
At the age of fourteen, while sick with typhoid fever, he raved in his delirium that he
wanted, above all else, to see the paintings in the Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi in
Florence. As Livorno's local museum only housed a sparse few paintings by the Italian
Renaissance masters, the tales he had heard about the great works held in Florence intrigued
him, and it was a source of considerable despair to him, in his sickened state, that he
might never get the chance to view them in person. His mother promised that she would take
him to Florence herself, the moment he was recovered. Not only did she fulfil this promise,
but she also undertook to enroll him with the best painting master in Livorno, Guglielmo
Micheli. Modigliani worked in Micheli's Art School from 1898 to 1900. Here his earliest
formal artistic instruction took place in an atmosphere deeply steeped in a study of the
styles and themes of 19th-century Italian art. In his earliest Parisian work, traces of this
influence, and that of his studies of Renaissance art, can still be seen: this nascent work
was shaped as much by such artists as Giovanni Boldini as by Toulouse-Lautrec.
Modigliani showed great promise while with Micheli, and only ceased his studies when he was
forced to, by the onset of tuberculosis.
In 1901, whilst in Rome, Modigliani admired the work of Domenico Morelli, a painter of
melodramatic Biblical studies and scenes from great literature. It is ironic that he should
be so struck by Morelli, as this painter had served as an inspiration for a group of
iconoclasts who went known by the title "the Macchiaioli" (from macchia —"dash of colour",
or, more derogatively, "stain"), and Modigliani had already been exposed to the influences
of the Macchiaioli. This minor, localized landscape movement was possessed of a need to
react against the bourgeois stylings of the academic genre painters. While sympathetically
connected to (and actually pre-dating) the French Impressionists, the Macchiaioli did not
make the same impact upon international art culture as did the contemporaries and followers
of Monet, and are today largely forgotten outside of Italy.
Modigliani's connection with the movement was through Guglielmo Micheli, his first art
teacher. Micheli was not only a Macchiaiolo himself, but had been a pupil of the famous
Giovanni Fattori, a founder of the movement. Micheli's work, however, was so fashionable and
the genre so commonplace that the young Modigliani reacted against it, preferring to ignore
the obsession with landscape that, as with French Impressionism, characterized the movement.
Micheli also tried to encourage his pupils to paint en plein air, but Modigliani never
really got a taste for this style of working, sketching in cafés, but preferring to paint
indoors, and especially in his own studio. Even when compelled to paint landscapes (three
are known to exist), Modigliani chose a proto-Cubist palette more akin to Cézanne than to
While with Micheli, Modigliani not only studied landscape, but also portraiture, still-life,
and the nude. His fellow students recall that the latter was where he displayed his greatest
talent, and apparently this was not an entirely academic pursuit for the teenager: when not
painting nudes, he was occupied with seducing the household maid.
Despite his rejection of the Macchiaioli approach, Modigliani nonetheless found favour with
his teacher, who referred to him as "Superman", a pet name reflecting the fact that
Modigliani was not only quite adept at his art, but also that he regularly quoted from
Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Fattori himself would often visit the studio, and
approved of the young artist's innovations.
In 1902, Modigliani continued what was to be a life-long infatuation with life drawing,
enrolling in the Accademia di Belle Arti (Scuola Libera di Nudo, or "Free School of Nude
Studies") in Florence. A year later while still suffering from tuberculosis, he moved to
Venice, where he registered to study at the Istituto di Belle Arti.
It is in Venice that he first smoked hashish and, rather than studying, began to spend time
frequenting disreputable parts of the city. The impact of these lifestyle choices upon his
developing artistic style is open to conjecture, although these choices do seem to be more
than simple teenage rebellion, or the cliched hedonism and bohemianism that was almost
expected of artists of the time; his pursuit of the seedier side of life appears to have
roots in his appreciation of radical philosophies, such as those of Nietzsche.In 1906
Modigliani moved to Paris, then the focal point of the avant-garde. In fact, his arrival at
the centre of artistic experimentation coincided with the arrival of two other foreigners
who were also to leave their marks upon the art world: Gino Severini and Juan Gris.
He settled in Le Bateau-Lavoir, a commune for penniless artists in Montmartre, renting
himself a studio in Rue Caulaincourt. Even though this artists' quarter of Montmartre was
characterized by generalized poverty, Modigliani himself presented—initially, at least—as
one would expect the son of a family trying to maintain the appearances of its lost
financial standing to present: his wardrobe was dapper without ostentation, and the studio
he rented was appointed in a style appropriate to someone with a finely attuned taste in
plush drapery and Renaissance reproductions. He soon made efforts to assume the guise of the
bohemian artist, but, even in his brown corduroys, scarlet scarf and large black hat, he
continued to appear as if he were slumming it, having fallen upon harder times. Within a
year of arriving in Paris, however, his demeanour and reputation had changed dramatically.
He transformed himself from a dapper academician artist into a sort of prince of vagabonds.
The poet and journalist Louis Latourette, upon visiting the artist's previously
well-appointed studio after his transformation, discovered the place in upheaval, the
Renaissance reproductions discarded from the walls, the plush drapes in disarray. Modigliani
was already an alcoholic and a drug addict by this time, and his studio reflected this.
Modigliani's behaviour at this time sheds some light upon his developing style as an artist,
in that the studio had become almost a sacrificial effigy for all that he resented about the
academic art that had marked his life and his training up to that point.
Not only did he remove all the trappings of his bourgeois heritage from his studio, but he
also set about destroying practically all of his own early work. The motivation for this
violent rejection of his earlier self is the subject of considerable speculation. The
self-destructive tendencies may have stemmed from his tuberculosis and the knowledge (or
presumption) that the disease had essentially marked him for an early death; within the
artists' quarter, many faced the same sentence, and the typical response was to set about
enjoying life while it lasted, principally by indulging in self-destructive actions. For
Modigliani such behaviour may have been a response to a lack of recognition; he sought the
company of artists such as Utrillo and Soutine, seeking acceptance and validation for his
work from his colleagues. Modigliani's behavior stood out even in these Bohemian
surroundings: he carried on frequent affairs, drank heavily, and used absinthe and hashish.
While drunk, he would sometimes strip himself naked at social gatherings. He became the
epitome of the tragic artist, creating a posthumous legend almost as well-known as that of
Vincent van Gogh. During the 1920s, in the wake of Modigliani's career and spurred on by
comments by André Salmon crediting hashish and absinthe with the genesis of Modigliani's
style, many hopefuls tried to emulate his "success" by embarking on a path of substance
abuse and bohemian excess. Salmon claimed—erroneously—that whereas Modigliani was a totally
pedestrian artist when sober,
“ ...from the day that he abandoned himself to certain forms of debauchery, an
unexpected light came upon him, transforming his art. From that day on, he became one who
must be counted among the masters of living art." While this propaganda served as a rallying
cry to those with a romantic longing to be a tragic, doomed artist, these strategies did not
produce unique artistic insights or techniques in those who did not already have them.
In fact, art historians suggest that it is entirely possible for Modigliani to have achieved
even greater artistic heights had he not been immured in, and destroyed by, his own
self-indulgences. We can only speculate what he might have accomplished had he emerged
intact from his self-destructive explorations. During his early years in Paris, Modigliani
worked at a furious pace. He was constantly sketching, making as many as a hundred drawings
a day. However, many of his works were lost—destroyed by him as inferior, left behind in his
frequent changes of address, or given to girlfriends who did not keep them.
He was first influenced by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, but around 1907 he became fascinated
with the work of Paul Cézanne. Eventually he developed his own unique style, one that cannot
be adequately categorized with other artists.
He met the first serious love of his life, Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, in 1910, when he was
26. They had studios in the same building, and although 21-year-old Anna was recently
married, they began an affair. Tall (Modigliani was only 5 foot 5 inches) with dark hair
(like Modigliani's), pale skin and grey-green eyes, she embodied Modigliani's aesthetic
ideal and the pair became engrossed in each other. After a year, however, Anna returned to
her husband. In 1909, Modigliani returned home to Livorno, sickly and tired from his wild
lifestyle. Soon he was back in Paris, this time renting a studio in Montparnasse. He
originally saw himself as a sculptor rather than a painter, and was encouraged to continue
after Paul Guillaume, an ambitious young art dealer, took an interest in his work and
introduced him to sculptor Constantin Brancusi.
Although a series of Modigliani's sculptures were exhibited in the Salon d'Automne of 1912,
by 1914 he abandoned sculpting and focused solely on his painting, a move precipitated by
the difficulty in acquiring sculptural materials due to the outbreak of war, and by
Modigliani's physical debilitation. In Modigliani's art, there is evidence of the influence
of art from Africa and Cambodia which he may have seen in the Musée de l'Homme, but his
stylizations are just as likely to have been the result of his being surrounded by Mediæval
sculpture during his studies in Northern Italy (there is no recorded information from
Modigliani himself, as there is with and others, to confirm the contention that he
was influenced by either ethnic or any other kind of sculpture). A possible interest in
African tribal masks seems to be evident in his portraits. In both his painting and
sculpture, the sitters' faces resemble ancient Egyptian painting in their flat and mask-like
appearance, with distinctive almond eyes, pursed mouths, twisted noses, and elongated necks.
However these same characteristics are shared by Mediæval European sculpture and painting.
Modigliani painted a series of portraits of contemporary artists and friends in
Montparnasse: Chaim Soutine, Moise Kisling, Pablo Diego Rivera, Marie "Marevna"
Vorobyev-Stebeslka, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Blaise Cendrars, and Jean Cocteau, all sat for
At the outset of World War I, Modigliani tried to enlist in the army but was refused because
of his poor health. Women came and went until Beatrice Hastings entered his life. She stayed
with him for almost two years, was the subject for several of his portraits, including
Madame Pompadour, and the object of much of his drunken wrath.
When the British painter Nina Hamnett arrived in Montparnasse in 1914, on her first evening
there the smiling man at the next table in the café introduced himself as Modigliani;
painter and Jew. They became great friends.
In 1916, Modigliani befriended the Polish poet and art dealer Leopold Zborovski and his wife
Anna.The following summer, the Russian sculptor Chana Orloff introduced him to a beautiful
19-year-old art student named Jeanne Hébuterne who had posed for Tsuguharu Foujita. From a
conservative bourgeois background, Hébuterne was renounced by her devout Roman Catholic
family for her liaison with the painter, whom they saw as little more than a debauched
derelict, and, worse yet, a Jew. Despite her family's objections, soon they were living
together, and although Hébuterne was the current love of his life, their public scenes
became more renowned than Modigliani's individual drunken exhibitions.
On December 3, 1917, Modigliani's first one-man exhibition opened at the Berthe Weill
Gallery. The chief of the Paris police was scandalized by Modigliani's nudes and forced him
to close the exhibition within a few hours after its opening.
After he and Hébuterne moved to Nice, she became pregnant and on November 29, 1918 gave
birth to a daughter whom they named Jeanne (1918-1984). On a trip to Nice which had been
conceived and organized by Leopold Zborovski, Modigliani, Foujita and other artists tried to
sell their works to rich tourists. Modigliani managed to sell a few pictures but only for a
few francs each. Despite this, during this time he produced most of the paintings that later
became his most popular and valued works.
During his lifetime he sold a number of his works, but never for any great amount of money.
What funds he did receive soon vanished for his habits.
In May 1919 he returned to Paris, where, with Hébuterne and their daughter, he rented an
apartment in the rue de la Grande Chaumière. While there, both Jeanne Hébuterne and Amedeo
Modigliani painted portraits of each other, and of themselves. Although he continued to
paint, Modigliani's health was deteriorating rapidly, and his alcohol-induced blackouts
became more frequent.
In 1920, after not hearing from him for several days, his downstairs neighbor checked on the
family and found Modigliani in bed delirious and holding onto Hébuterne who was nearly nine
months pregnant. They summoned a doctor, but little could be done because Modigliani was
dying of the then-incurable disease tubercular meningitis.
Modigliani died on January 24, 1920. There was an enormous funeral, attended by many from
the artistic communities in Montmartre and Montparnasse.
Hébuterne was taken to her parents' home, where, inconsolable, she threw herself out of a
fifth-floor window two days after Modigliani's death, killing herself and her unborn child.
Modigliani was interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery. Hébuterne was buried at the Cimetière de
Bagneux near Paris, and it was not until 1930 that her embittered family allowed her body to
be moved to rest beside Modigliani. A single tombstone honors them both. His epitaph reads:
"Struck down by Death at the moment of glory." Hers reads: "Devoted companion to the extreme
sacrifice." Modigliani died penniless and destitute—managing only one solo exhibition in his
life and giving his work away in exchange for meals in restaurants. Since his death his
reputation has soared. Nine novels, a play, a documentary and three feature films have been
devoted to his life. Modigliani's sister in Florence adopted their 15-month old daughter,
Jeanne (1918-1984). As an adult, she wrote a biography of her father titled, Modigliani: Man
and Myth. Two films have been made about Modigliani: Les Amants de Montparnasse in 1958,
directed by Jacques Becker, and Modigliani in 2004, directed by Mick Davis starring Andy
Garcia as Modigliani.
Red Nude (1917) plays an important part in the 1972 film Travels with My Aunt. The slyly
winking face of Maggie Smith, complete with bright red hair, seems to have been superimposed
onto the original painting.
The 1968 French film, Le tatoué features a fictional Legionaire who has his back covered by
a tattoo done by Modigliani. Since after his death, works by Modigliani have skyrocketed in
value, an art dealer spends the movie trying to get the tattoo off the back of the
Legionnaire, and into a museum. Selected Paintings: Head of a Woman with a Hat (1907)
Portrait of Juan Gris (1915)
Portrait of the Art Dealer Paul Guillaume (1916)
Portrait of Jean Cocteau (1916)
Seated Nude (ca. 1918) Honolulu Academy of Arts
Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne (1918)
Portrait of Marios Varvoglis (1920; Modigliani's last painting) Selected sculptures
(Only 27 sculptures by Modigliani are known to exist.)
Head of a Woman (1910/1911).
Rose Caryatid (1914). Figurative art, sometimes written as figurativism, describes artwork -
particularly paintings and sculptures - which are clearly derived from real object sources,
and are therefore by definition representational. The term "figurative art" is often taken
to mean art which represents the human figure, or even an animal figure, and, though this is
often the case, it is not necessarily so:
“ Since the arrival of abstract art the term figurative has been used to refer to any
form of modern art that retains strong references to the real world. ”
Painting and sculpture can therefore be divided into the categories of figurative,
representational and abstract, although, strictly speaking, abstract art is derived (or
abstracted) from a figurative or other natural source. However, the term is sometimes used
as a synonym for non-representational art and non-objective art, i.e. art which has no
derivation from figures or objects.
Figurative art is itself based upon a tacit understanding of abstracted shapes: the figure
sculpture of antiquity was not naturalistic, for its forms were idealized and
geometric. Ernst Gombrich referred to the strictures of this schematic imagery, the
adherence to that which was already known, rather than that which is seen, as the "Egyptian
method", an allusion to the memory-based clarity of imagery in Egyptian art. Eventually
idealization gave way to observation, and a figurative art which balanced ideal geometry
with greater realism was seen in Classical sculpture by 480 B.C. The Greeks referred to the
reliance on visual observation as mimesis. Until the time of the Impressionists, figurative
art was characterized by attempts to reconcile these opposing principles. The rise of the
Neoclassical art of Nicholas Poussin and Jacques-Louis David ultimately engendered the
realistic reactions of Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet.
The formal elements, those aesthetic effects created by design, upon which figurative art is
dependent, include line, shape, color, light and dark, mass, volume, texture, and
perspective, although it should be pointed out that these elements of design could also play
a role in creating other types of imagery -- for instance abstract, or non-representational
or non-objective two-dimensional artwork.
Painting is a mode of expression and the forms are numerous. Drawing, composition or
abstraction and other aesthetics may serve to manifest the expressive and conceptual
intention of the practitioner. Paintings can be naturalistic and representational (as in a
still life or landscape painting), photographic, abstract, be loaded with narrative content,
symbolism, emotion or be political in nature. Painting is the practice of applying paint,
pigment, color or other medium to a surface (support base). In art, the term describes both
the act and the result, which is called a painting. Paintings may have for their support
such surfaces as walls, paper, canvas, wood, glass, lacquer, clay or concrete. Paintings may
be decorated with gold leaf, and some modern paintings incorporate other materials including
sand, clay, and scraps of paper. A portion of the history of painting in both Eastern and
Western art is dominated by spiritual motifs and ideas; examples of this kind of painting
range from artwork depicting mythological figures on pottery to Biblical scenes rendered on
the interior walls and ceiling of The Sistine Chapel, to scenes from the life of Buddha or
other scenes of eastern religious origin.
Among the continuing and current directions in painting at the beginning of the 21st century
are Monochrome painting, Hard-edge painting, Geometric abstraction, Appropriation,
Hyperrealism, Photorealism, Expressionism, Minimalism, Lyrical Abstraction, Pop Art, Op Art,
Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting, Neo-expressionism, Collage, Intermedia
painting, Assemblage painting, Computer art painting, Postmodern painting, Neo-Dada
painting, Shaped canvas painting, environmental mural painting, traditional figure painting,
Landscape painting, Portrait painting, and paint-on-glass animation.
Developments in Eastern painting historically parallel those in Western painting, in
general, a few centuries earlier. African art, Islamic art, Indian art, Chinese art, and
Japanese art each had significant influence on Western art, and, eventually, vice-versa.
The oldest known paintings are at the Grotte Chauvet in France, claimed by some historians
to be about 32,000 years old. They are engraved and painted using red ochre and black
pigment and show horses, rhinoceros, lions, buffalo, mammoth or humans often hunting.
However the earliest evidence of painting has been discovered in two rock-shelters in Arnhem
Land, in northern Australia. In the lowest layer of material at these sites there are used
pieces of ochre estimated to be 60,000 years old. Archaeologists have also found a fragment
of rock painting preserved in a limestone rock-shelter in the Kimberley region of
North-Western Australia, that is dated 40 000 years old. There are examples of cave
paintings all over the world—in France, Spain, Portugal, China, Australia, India etc.
In Western cultures oil painting and watercolor painting are the best known media, with rich
and complex traditions in style and subject matter. In the East, ink and color ink
historically predominated the choice of media with equally rich and complex traditions.
Different types of paint are usually identified by the medium that the pigment is suspended
or embedded in, which determines the general working characteristics of the paint, such as
viscosity, miscibility, solubility, drying time, etc. Description Source Wikipedia