Amedeo Modigliani, Italian (1884-1920)

Amedeo Modigliani was born on 12 July 1884 in Livorno, Italy. The serious illnesses he suffered during his childhood persisted throughout his life. At age fourteen he began to study painting. He first experimented with sculpture during the summer of 1902 and the following year attended the Regio Istituto di Belle Arti in Venice.

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.

Early in 1906 Modigliani went to Paris where he settled in Montmartre and attended the Académie Colarossi. His early work was influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Gauguin and Cézanne. In the autumn of 1907 he met his first patron, Dr Paul Alexandre, who purchased works from him before World War I. Modigliani exhibited in the "Salon d’Automne" in 1907 and 1912 and in the "Salon des Indépendants" in 1908, 1910 and 1911. In 1909 Modigliani met Brancusi when both artists lived in Montparnasse.

When he first arrived in Paris, he wrote home regularly to his mother, he sketched his nudes at the Académie Colarossi, 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.

From 1909 to 1915 he concentrated on sculpture but he also drew and painted to a certain extent. However, the majority of his paintings date from 1916 to 1919, Modigliani's circle of friends first consisted of Max Jacob, Lipchitz and the Portuguese, sculptor Amedeo, de Souza-Cardoso and later included Chaim Soutine, Maurice Utrillo, Jules Pascin, Foujita, Molise Kisling and the Sitwells.

His dealers were Paul Guillaume (1914-16) and Leopold Zborowski (by 1917). The only one-man show given the artist during his lifetime took place at the Galerie Berthe Weill in December 1917. In March 1917 Modigliani met Jeanne Hèbuterne who became his companion and model. From March or April 1918 until May 1919, they lived in the south of France, in both Nice and Cagnes. Modigliani died in Paris on 24 January 1920.

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.

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 García 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 Legionnaire 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.


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