Modigliani (July 12, 1884 – January 24, 1920) was a Jewish-Italian
painter and sculptor who pursued his career for the most part in France.
Modigliani was born in Livorno, Italy and began his artistic studies
in Italy before moving to Paris in 1906. Influenced by the artists in
his circle of friends and associates, by a range of genres and movements,
and by primitive art, Modigliani's oeuvre was nonetheless unique and
idiosyncratic. He died in Paris of tubercular meningitis - exacerbated
by a lifestyle of excess - at the age of 35.
Modigliani was born into a Jewish family in Livorno, Italy.
Livorno was still
a relatively new city, by Italian standards, in the late nineteenth
century. The city on the Tyrrhenian coast dates from around 1600, when
it was transformed from a swampy village into a seaport. The Livorno
that Modigliani knew was a bustling centre of commerce focused upon
seafaring and shipwrighting, but its cultural history lay in being a
refuge for those persecuted for their religion. His own maternal great-great-grandfather
was one Solomon Garsin, a Jew who had immigrated to Livorno in the eighteenth
century as a religious refugee.
Modigliani was the
fourth child of Flaminio Modigliani and his wife, Eugenia Garsin. His
father was in the money-changing business, but when the business went
bankrupt, the family lived in dire poverty. In fact, Amedeo's birth
saved the family from certain ruin, as, according to an ancient law,
creditors could not seize the bed of a pregnant woman or a mother with
a newborn child. When bailiffs entered the family home, just as Eugenia
went into labour, the family protected their most valuable assets by
piling them on top of the expectant mother.
Beset with health
problems after a bout of typhoid at the age of fourteen, two years later
he contracted the tuberculosis which would affect him for the rest of
Modigliani had a
particularly close relationship with his mother, who taught her son
at home until he was ten. To help him recover from his many childhood
illnesses, she took him to Naples in Southern Italy, where the warmer
weather was conducive to his convalescence.
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 that:
“ 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? ”
Art student years
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 the 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 enrol
him with the best painting master in Livorno, a Guglielmo Micheli.
Micheli and the
Modigliani worked in the studio of Micheli 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 nineteenth-century Italian
art. In his earliest Parisian work, traces of this influence, and that
of his studies of Renaissance art, can still be seen: artists such as
Boldini figure just as much in this nascent work as do those of Toulouse-Lautrec.
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 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, localised
art 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
followers of Monet, and are today largely forgotten outside of Italy.
with the movement was through Micheli, his first art teacher. Micheli
was not only a Macchiaioli himself, but had been a pupil of the famous
Giovanni Fattori, 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, characterised 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 cafes,
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 Cezanne than the Macchiaioli.
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 Spake Zarathustra.
Fattori (founder of the Macchiaioli) 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
Having been exposed to erudite philosophical literature as a young boy
under the tutelage of Isaco Garsin, his maternal grandfather, he continued
to read and be influenced through his art studies by the writings of
Nietzsche, Baudelaire, Carduzzi, Comte de Lautréamont, and others,
and developed the belief that the only route to true creativity was
through defiance and disorder.
Letters that he
wrote from his 'sabbatical' in Capri in 1901 clearly indicate that he
is being more and more influenced by the thinking of Nietzsche. In these
letters, he advised friend Oscar Ghiglia,
“ (hold sacred
all) which can exalt and excite your intelligence... (and) ... seek
to provoke ... and to perpetuate ... these fertile stimuli, because
they can push the intelligence to its maximum creative power. ”
The work of Lautréamont
was equally influential at this time. This doomed poet's Les Chants
de Maldoror became the seminal work for the Parisian Surrealists of
Modigliani's generation, and the book became Modigliani's favourite
to the extent that he learnt it by heart. The poetry of Lautréamont
is characterised by the juxtaposition of fantastical elements, and by
sadistic imagery; the fact that Modigliani was so taken by this text
in his early teens gives a good indication of his developing tastes.
Baudelaire and D'Annunzio similarly appealed to the young artist, with
their interest in corrupted beauty, and the expression of that insight
through Symbolist imagery.
to Ghiglia extensively from Capri, where his mother had taken him to
assist in his recovery from the tuberculosis. These letters are a sounding
board for the developing ideas brewing in Modigliani's mind. Ghiglia
was seven years Modigliani's senior, and it is likely that it was he
who showed the young man the limits of his horizons in Livorno. Like
all precocious teenagers, Modigliani preferred the company of older
companions, and Ghiglia's role in his adolescence was to be a sympathetic
ear as he worked himself out, principally in the convoluted letters
that he regularly sent, and which survive today.
“ Dear friend
I write to pour myself out to you and to affirm myself to myself.
I am the prey of
great powers that surge forth and then disintegrate...
A bourgeois told
me today - insulted me - that I or at least my brain was lazy. It did
me good. I should like such a warning every morning upon awakening:
but they cannot understand us nor can they understand life...”
In 1906 Modigliani
moved to Paris, then the focal point of the avant-garde. In fact, his
arrival at the epicentre 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.
The Jewess, 1908He
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 characterised by generalised 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.
When he first arrived
in Paris, he wrote home regularly to his mother, he sketched his nudes
at the Colarossi school, and he drank wine in moderation. He was at
that time considered by those who knew him as a bit reserved, verging
on the asocial. He is noted to have commented, upon meeting Picasso
who, at the time, was wearing his trademark workmen's clothes, that
even though the man was a genius, that did not excuse his uncouth appearance.
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.
He explained this extraordinary course of actions to his astonished
baubles, done when I was a dirty bourgeois. ”
Portrait of Jaques and Berthe Lipchitz, 1916The 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 behavior may have been a response to a
lack of recognition; it is known that he sought the company of other
alcoholic artists such as Utrillo and Soutine, seeking acceptance and
validation for his work from his colleagues.
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 Andre
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,
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.
Head (1911) Note the influence of Cambodian art in this sculpture.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, he abruptly abandoned sculpting and focused solely on his painting.
Question of influences
In Modigliani's art, there is evidence of the influence of primitive
art from Africa and Cambodia which he may have seen in the Musée
de l'Homme, but his stylisations are just as likely to have been the
result of his being surrounded by Mediaeval sculpture during his studies
in Northern Italy (there is no recorded information from Modigliani
himself, as there is with Picasso and others, to confirm the contention
that he was influenced by either ethnic or any other kind of sculpture).
A possible interest in African 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 masklike appearance, with distinctive
almond eyes, pursed mouths, twisted noses, and elongated necks. However
these same chacteristics are shared by Medieval European sculpture and
a series of portraits of contemporary artists and friends in Montparnasse:
Chaim Soutine, Moise Kisling, Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Marie "Marevna"
Vorobyev-Stebeslka, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Blaise Cendrars, and Jean
Cocteau, all sat for stylized renditions.
At the outset of
World War I, Modigliani tried to enlist in the army but was refused
because of his poor health.
The war years
Madame Pompadour by ModiglianiKnown as Modì, which roughly translates
as 'morbid' or 'moribund', by many Parisians, but as Dedo to his family
and friends, Modigliani was a handsome man, and attracted much female
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
Jeanne Hébuterne in Red ShawlThe following summer, the Russian
sculptor Chana Orloff introduced him to a beautiful 19-year-old art
student named Jeanne Hébuterne who had posed for 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 love of his life, their public
scenes became more renowned than Modigliani's individual drunken exhibitions.[citation
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
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).
During a trip to Nice, conceived and organized by Leopold Zborovski,
Modigliani, Tsuguharu 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
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 of 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.
Last daysAlthough 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
on January 24, 1920. There was an enormous funeral, attended by many
from the artistic communities in Montmartre and Montparnasse.
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.
penniless and destitute -- managing only one solo exhibition in his
life and giving his work away in exchange for meals in restaurants.
Had he lived through the 1920s when American buyers flooded Paris, his
fortunes might well have changed. Since his death his reputation has
soared. Nine novels, a play, a documentary and three feature films have
been devoted to his life.
Amedeo Modigliani at Artprice. To look at auction records, find Modigliani's
works in upcoming auctions, check price levels and indexes for his works,
read his biography and view his signature, access the Artprice database.
one of the most popular artists of the 20th century, was born on July
12, 1884 into the family of Flaminio and Eugenia Modigliani, in Livorno
(Leghorn), Tuscany. He was the forth and the youngest child in the family,
which belonged to the secularized Jewish bourgeoisie. By the time Amedeo
was born, the family business was in down, to go bankrupt some years
later. Eugenia Modigliani, Amedeo’s mother, came from France.
To contribute to the family income she gave private lessons and made
translations. It was she who liked to create myths around the family
and encouraged this trait in her younger son.
The attack of typhoid
in 1898 was a turning point in Modigliani’s life. After recovering
he was allowed to drop school and start to take lessons in drawing and
painting at the Art Academy in Livorno. By 1900, his health condition
aggravated, he contracted tuberculosis and spent the winter of 1900/01
in Naples, on Capri and in Rome. In 1902, Modigliani enrolled in the
Scuola libera di Nudo (Free School of Nude Studies) in Florence. He
visited Florence’s museums and churches and studied the art of
the Renaissance, which he learned to admire. A year later Modigliani
moved to Venice, where he enrolled in the Instituto di Belle Arti di
Venezia and continued the self-study of old masters. It is in Venice
that he first tried hashish. Two years later Modigliani went to Paris.
He took life-drawing classes at the Académie Colarossi and befriended
many colleagues from all over the world. Despite his poor health, he
participated in the debauched life of the artists on Montmartre. The
German painter Ludwig Meidner described him in the following way, “Our
Modigliani, or ‘Modi’ as he was called – was a characteristic
and, at the same time, highly talented representative of Bohemian Montmartre;
he was probably even its last true Bohemian”.
In 1907, Modigliani
got his first patron – the young medical doctor Paul Alexandre
(Portrait of Paul Alexandre Against a Green Background), who bought
paintings and drawings from Modigliani and got him commissions for portraits.
Thus, the painting The Amazon (1909) - was a commission from the Baroness
Marguerite de Hasse de Villers, which she made on Dr. Alexandre’s
recommendations. But the sitter was so infuriated with the finished
portrait that refused to take it and Dr. Alexandre bought it.
Through Dr. Alexandre
(in 1909) Modigliani made the acquaintance of the Romanian sculptor
Constantin Brancusi, under the influence of whom he switched to stone
sculpture, which prevailed over his painting for some time. One of the
legends says that Modigliani stole the big blocks of stone for his sculptures
from the surrounding construction sites and the railway sleepers, intended
for the Métro, for his wooden heads. Modigliani never bothered
to refute any gossip and fantasies concerning him.
In spring of 1910,
Modigliani got acquainted with a young Russian poetess Anna Akhmatova.
Their passionate love affair lasted till the August of 1911, when they
parted never to meet again.
sculptures were exhibited in the autumn Salon of 1912, some of them
were even bought; but by 1914 the artist was again more interested in
painting. In June of 1914, he met the talented and eccentric English
woman, Béatrice Hastings, who had been a circus artist, a journalist,
a poetess, a traveler, an art critic, and maybe tried other professions,
of which we don’t know. Later she would write of him, “A
complex character. A swine and a pearl. Met him in 1914 at a crémerie.
I sat opposite him. Hashish and brandy. Not at all impressed. Didn’t
know who he was. He looked ugly, ferocious and greedy. Met him again
at the Café Rotonde. He was shaved and charming. Raised his cap
with a pretty gesture, blushed and asked me to come and see his work.
And I went. He always had a book in his pocket. Lautrémont’s
Maldoror. The first oil painting was of Kisling. He had no respect for
anyone except Picasso and Max Jacob. Detested Cocteau. Never completed
anything good under the influence of hashish.” Béatrice
became Modigliani’s mistress and preferred model for the next
two years. Though her portraits can’t be called flattering, more
vice versa – she’s shown round-faced, small-featured, with
pursed lips and small empty eyes. Beatris Hastings. Madam Pompadour
(Portrait of Beatrice Hastings).
In August of 1914,
the First World War broke out. Modigliani wanted to enlist but was exempted
from military service for health reasons. Paul Alexandre was enlisted,
ending the contract between him and the artist. The art dealer Paul
Guillaume offered Modigliani his support. In 1916, Modigliani befriended
the Polish poet and art dealer Léopold Zborovski (1889-1932)
and his wife Anna (Hanka), who would become his supportive friends.
Modigliani painted them several times.
In April of 1917,
Modigliani met the 19-year-old Jeanne Hébuterne (1898-1920),
student of the Académie Colarossi; they started to live together.
“She was gentle, shy, quiet and delicate. A little bit depressive”,
the writer Charles-Albert Cingria characterized Jeanne. She became his
major model until his death, he painted her no less than 25 times.
On December 3,
1917 Modigliani’s first one-man exhibition was opened at the Berthe
Weill Gallery. Unfortunately the gallery was situated opposite a police
station, the chief of which was scandalized by Modigliani’s nudes
and forced him to close the exhibition within a few hours after its
In spring of 1918,
Modigliani and Jeanne left Paris, which was under the threat of occupation
by Germans, and went for the southern coast. In Nice and its environments
Modigliani produced most of the paintings that would later become his
most popular and highest-priced works. On November 29, 1918 in Nice,
Jeanne Hébuterne gave birth to a girl, who was recognized by
Modigliani as his daughter. She was given the same Christian name as
At the end of May
of 1919, Modigliani returned to Paris. After several successful exhibitions
in England, English collectors started to buy his paintings. But by
the end of the year Modigliani became seriously ill with tuberculosis.
On January 24 1920 he died. On the following day the pregnant Jeanne
Hébuterne committed suicide. They were buried together in the
Père Lachaise cemetery. Their orphan daughter Jeanne (1918-1984)
was adopted by Modigliani’s sister in Florence; later she would
write an important biography of her father Modigliani: Man and Myth.