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Artists Amedeo Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani

Italian Painter and Sculptor

Movement: Expressionism

Born: July 12, 1884 - Livorno, Italy

Died: January 24, 1920 - Paris, France

Quotes

"What I am searching for is neither the real nor the unreal, but the subconscious, the mystery of what is instinctive in the human race."
Amedeo Modigliani
"Always speak out and keep forging ahead. The man who cannot find new ambitions and even a new person within himself, who is always destined to wrestle with what has remained rotten and decadent in his own personality, is not a man."
Amedeo Modigliani

"Every great work of art should be considered like any work of nature. First of all from the point of view of its aesthetic reality and then not just from its development and the mastery of its creation but from the standpoint of what has moved and agitated its creator."

Synopsis

A central participant in the Ecole de Paris, Modigliani modernized two of the enduring themes of art history: the portrait and the nude. Characterized by a sense of melancholy, elongated proportions, and mask-like faces influenced by such sources as Constantin Brancusi and African art, Modigliani's portraits are both specific and highly stylized, each uniquely revealing its sitter's inner life, while at the same time unmistakably "Modiglianized," to use the words of one critic. Modigliani's nudes scandalized audiences with their depiction of features such as pubic hair and their frank, unadorned sexuality. The subject of three biographical movies, Modigliani's legacy is inextricably bound up with his tragic and bohemian life: his fragile health, which plagued him since childhood; his perpetual pennilessness; and - most famously - his over-the-top, self-destructive lifestyle, which included sexual debauchery and overuse of drugs and alcohol.

Key Ideas

Modigliani upended the tradition of the nude. Modern in their candid sensuality, his works in this genre are noticeably devoid of the modesty and mythological subtext present in many earlier depictions of nude figures. Because of these qualities - along with the artist's notorious womanizing - Modigliani's nudes were scandalously received at the time they were created.
Modigliani's portraiture achieves a unique combination of specificity and generalization. His portraits convey his subjects' personalities, while his trademark stylization and use of recurring motifs - long necks and almond-shaped eyes - lends them uniformity. Modigliani's portraiture also serves as a vital art historic record, comprising a gallery of major figures of the Ecole de Paris circle, to which he belonged following his move to Paris in 1906.
The work of the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi was perhaps the single most important influence on Modigliani's creative development. Although Modigliani is best known as a painter, he focused on sculpture early on in his career, and, some writers have argued, may have regarded his true calling as that of sculptor. The sculptures Modigliani created in 1909-14 - of which twenty-five carvings and one woodcut survive - were highly influential on his work as a painter, helping him arrive at the abstracted and linear vocabulary of his painting.

Most Important Art

Jacques and Berthe Lipchitz (1916)
This double portrait of Jacques Lipchitz and his wife, Berthe, exemplifies Modigliani's talent for eliciting the inner life of his subjects. Although his stylized method of painting presents two mask-like faces, they reveal subtle clues about the personality of each sitter. Berthe has an open, kindly face, conveyed by the brightness of the paint and downward tilting eyes. Jacques, with his small, compressed features sloping inward, appears calculating and suspicious. Wanting to pay his friend Modigliani as much as possible for his work, Jacques Lipchitz insisted on further changes after its completion; as a result, the painting took nearly two weeks to finish.
Oil on canvas - The Art Institute of Chicago
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Biography

Childhood

Amedeo, or "Dedo," Modigliani was the youngest of four children born to Jewish parents, Flaminio and Eugenia, in Livorno, Italy, home to a large Jewish community. Shortly before his birth, the family businesses had fallen onto hard times, forcing the Modiglianis to declare bankruptcy. Amedeo's timely arrival may have resulted in the rescue of many valuable heirlooms; according to family legend, soldiers were forced to avoid Eugenia in childbirth as they came to repossess the furniture, in accordance with an old Italian custom that forbade the seizure of any possessions in the bed of a woman in labor.

Eugenia's father and sister, Isaac and Laure Garsin, played a significant role in Amedeo's upbringing. The Garsins were highly educated, introducing Amedeo to literature, poetry, philosophy, and the visual arts at a young age. In 1895, Amedeo contracted the first of several serious illnesses that he battled throughout childhood. While suffering from typhoid, he first told his mother of his wish to be a painter. Although Eugenia preferred an academic education for her son, she later acceded to his wishes, as she recounted in her diary: "On the first of August [1898], he begins drawing lessons, which he has wanted to do for a long time. He thinks he's already a painter." The following year, Amadeo gave up his regular schooling entirely to study with his drawing teacher, Guglielmo Micheli.

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Early Training

After being diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1901, Modigliani recuperated in southern Italy with his mother. Visits to the museums in Naples, Rome, Florence, and Venice familiarized him with classical Italian painting and sculpture, fueling his enthusiasm for the fine arts. After their return to Livorno, he convinced his mother to allow him to move to Florence, where he studied figure drawing at the Scuola Libera di Nudo. Possibly inspired by his admiration for Michelangelo, he moved to Pietrasanta in 1903 to devote his time to sculpture, but found his strength insufficient for the strenuous and time-consuming stone-carving process.

In Florence, Modigliani became acquainted with Manuel Ortiz de Zarate, an artist who had worked with the Impressionists. Intrigued by Zarate's descriptions of Paris and the avant-garde, Modigliani decided to pursue his ambitions there, but his mother encouraged him to stay in Florence. Restless for new opportunities, Modigliani moved to Venice and enrolled in the Scuola Libera di Nudo at the Istituto di Belli Arti, which he found overly traditional in its curriculum. He discovered a preference for art-making amid the atmosphere of the local bars and cafes, where he was introduced to illicit substances. Growing increasingly dissatisfied with the art scene in Italy, his mother finally allowed him to move to Paris in 1906.

Mature Period

Amedeo Modigliani Biography

As Modigliani settled into Paris, he enrolled in the Académie Colarossi and spent the first few months visiting area galleries and museums. He was soon absorbed into the Bateau Lavoir circle, which included Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Pablo Picasso, and André Salmon, among other well-known art and literary figures. Searching for an innovative style that could compete with those practiced by the Parisian avant-garde, Modigliani concentrated on painting. Works from this period show a high regard for the Post-Impressionists. Head of a Woman Wearing a Hat (1907) makes use of a curvilinear style that is characteristic of Art Nouveau, but also exhibits the influence of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in the tilt of the woman's shoulders and the thoughtful, expressive face, revealing Modigliani's early interest in representing psychological states.

A 1906 exhibition of three paintings at the Laura Wylda Gallery failed to generate any sales or interest in Modigliani's work. He approached galleries door to door, sometimes resorting to trading his art for food or other necessities. Frustration with his lack of success led Modigliani to abuse drugs and alcohol, further exacerbating his health problems. His 1907 meeting with Paul Alexandre, a young physician who became a friend and much-needed patron of his work, gave him a renewed sense of accomplishment and a steady source of work. One of Alexandre's favorite works by the artist was The Jewess (1908), a painting influenced by Paul Cézanne and the German Expressionists. The thickly painted canvas, with its solid shapes and dark colors, contrasts sharply with the delicate outlines of the earlier Head of a Woman. Dominant blue tones lend an air of melancholy to the composition, while the clashing areas of black and white convey strong emotion. Modigliani chose The Jewess and four other pieces for the twenty-fourth Salon des Indépendants, but the work received no attention.

Trying to refocus his attention on sculpture, Modigliani looked to Constantin Brancusi, who he met in 1909 through Alexandre. The simple elegance of Brancusi's simplified forms made a strong impression on Modigliani; the older artist's style began to manifest itself in Modigliani's work, as in the limestone Head (1910-12). In his sculptural oeuvre, Modigliani strove for a purity of form, aided by the use of elements from "primitive" African and Southeast Asian art, embraced at the time by many Parisian avant-garde artists such as Picasso.

Late Years and Death

In 1914, Max Jacob introduced Modigliani to the art dealer Paul Guillaume, who bought several paintings and agreed to promote his work. Modigliani's earnings, however, remained meager, and he continued to offer his drawings door to door. In July, he met the English writer and poet Emily Alice Haigh (known by her pen name Beatrice Hastings), who became his lover and the subject of several paintings. Many of these portraits have an angelic quality that suggests a parallel between Hastings and Dante's own Beatrice - an idea that likely appealed to Modigliani. Hastings attempted to gain exposure for Modigliani's work, but his indulgent lifestyle bred conflict in the relationship. Soon after their separation, he fell seriously ill from malnourishment and alcoholism.

After regaining his strength, Modigliani, unable to meet the physical demands of sculpture, continued to paint portraits. By this time, he had melded the influences of the Parisian avant-garde and arrived at his signature painting style, characterized by elegant linearity and the depiction of stylized, yet expressive figures. The best of these works give subtle glimpses into the personality of the sitter, such as the artist's 1916 portrait of Jacques Lipchitz and his wife Berthe.

Amedeo Modigliani Photo

That year, Modigliani began associating with the Polish poet and art dealer Leopold Zborowski, who arranged the artist's first and only solo exhibition in his lifetime, at the Berthe Weill Gallery in December 1917. To entice passersby, Weill installed an attractive nude in the front window. Scandalized, the local police temporarily shut down the exhibition, but the unintended publicity resulted in better sales than usual for the habitually impoverished artist.

In 1917, Modigliani met Jeanne Hebuterne, a young art student from the Académie Colarossi. The two fell in love, and Hebuterne later became his common-law wife. Zborowski, who had committed himself to supporting Modigliani's work, hoped that their relationship would provide both a new source of inspiration for Modigliani's portraiture and a measure of stability for the artist that would help temper Modigliani's dissolute lifestyle. Although his alcohol and drug consumption remained virtually unchanged during their time together, the portraits of Hebuterne reflected the artist's newfound sense of relative tranquility. In 1918, she gave birth to a daughter, named for her mother. New familial responsibilities, combined with his professional obligations to Zborowski, spurred Modigliani to increase productivity despite his fading health. A self-portrait from 1919 suggests a sense of calm and confidence in his work, which afforded him some measure of peace toward the end of his life. Yet, the artist's health ultimately gave way, with Modigliani succumbing to tubercular meningitis the following year.

Legacy

Although his works were not commercially successful during his lifetime, they became increasingly popular after his death. Modigliani is now among the celebrated artists of the twentieth century. While not closely associated with any one particular early-twentieth-century "ism," Modigliani arrived at a signature style that fused aspects of contemporary European artistic developments such as Cubism with non-Western art forms like African masks. His portraits and nudes overturned the conventions of both genres, uniquely combining innovative formal experimentation with probing candor and psychological insight, and earning the admiration of Modigliani's artistic contemporaries such as his close friend and fellow Ecole de Paris artist, the painter Chaim Soutine.

Yet Modigliani's creative legacy remains intertwined with the romantic legend of the quintessential bohemian artist, bound up with a life of excess and Jeanne Hebuterne's tragic suicide the day after Modigliani's death. To date, there are three movies that recount his life and times that all center on this legend, portraying him as a passionate individual with a decadent, self-destructive lifestyle. In addition, at least nine biographies have been written on the artist that address this theme to varying degrees, including one by his daughter, Jeanne Modigliani - aptly titled Modigliani: Man and Myth.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Amedeo Modigliani
Interactive chart with Amedeo Modigliani's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Paul Cézanne
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Pablo Picasso

Friends

Paul Alexandre
Constantin Brancusi
Max Jacob

Movements

Cubism
Fauvism
Post-Impressionism
Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani
Years Worked:

Artists

Frida Kahlo
Henry Moore

Friends

Diego Rivera
Chaim Soutine

Movements

Expressionism
Modernism

Original content written by Tracee Ng

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

. [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org website. Available from:
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Useful Resources on Amedeo Modigliani

Books
Websites
Articles
Audio
Videos
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Modigliani: A Life (2006)

By Jeffrey Meyers

Modigliani: A Life (2011)

By Meryle Secrest

Modigliani: Man and Myth

By Jeanne Modigliani

Modigliani: The Pure Bohemian

By June Rose

Modigliani's Recipe: Sex, Drugs and Long, Long Necks

By Peter Plagens
New York Times
May 21, 2004

Look Him in the Face

By Suzanne Muchnic
Los Angeles Times
June 22, 2003

in pop culture
Modigliani (2004)

An excellent film starring Andy Garcia based on the life Modigliani and his Paris circle

Les amants de Montparnasse (Montparnasse 19)

1958 Film

Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian artist working in Paris, was one of the founders of modern sculpture. His abstracted animals, portrait busts, and totem-like figures revolutionized the traditional relationship between the sculpture and its base.
ArtStory: Constantin Brancusi
Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
ArtStory: Impressionism
Juan Gris
Juan Gris
Juan Gris
Juan Gris was a Spanish painter and sculptor, and one of the few pioneers of Cubism. Along with Matisse, Léger, Braque and Picasso, Gris was among the elite visual artists working in early-twentieth-century France.
Juan Gris
Max Jacob
Max Jacob
Max Jacob
Max Jacob, born in 1876, was a French poet, writer, painter, and critic. Max Jacob is regarded as an important link between the Symbolists and the Surrealists. His writings include the novel Saint Matorel (1911), the verses Le laboratoire central (1921), and Le défense de Tartuffe (1919).
Max Jacob
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive, and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque, he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
ArtStory: Pablo Picasso
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.
ArtStory: Post-Impressionism
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau was a movement that swept through the decorative arts and architecture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Generating enthusiasts throughout Europe, it was aimed at modernizing design and escaping the eclectic historical styles that had previously been popular. It drew inspiration from both organic and geometric forms, evolving elegant designs that united flowing, natural forms with more angular contours.
ArtStory: Art Nouveau
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a Post-Impressionist artist who depicted the dancers, prostitutes, drinkers, and other characters of fin-de-siecle Paris. He is known for his paintings, his caricatures of friends, and his well-designed posters for Parisian dance halls.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
ArtStory: Paul Cézanne
Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism is a broad term for a host of movements in early twentieth-century Germany and beyond, from Die Brücke (1905) and Der Blaue Reiter (1911) to the early Neue Sachlichkeit painters in the 1920s and '30s. Many Expressionists used vivid colors and abstracted forms to create spiritually or psychologically intense works, while others focused on depictions of war, alienation, and the modern city.
ArtStory: Expressionism
Jacques Lipchitz
Jacques Lipchitz
Jacques Lipchitz
The Lithuanian-born Jacques Lipchitz moved to Paris in 1909, becoming a well-known Cubist sculptor and important member of the Ecole de Paris. Amid the German occupation of Paris during World War II, Lipchitz fled France for the United States in 1941, among the numerous artists so helped by Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee.
Jacques Lipchitz
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism
Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine was a Jewish Expressionist painter whose textured, impasto style was influential for later gestural painters. He is especially known for his portraits, landscapes, and studies of flayed meat.
ArtStory: Chaim Soutine
Paul Alexandre
Paul Alexandre
Paul Alexandre
Paul Alexandre was an Italian physician who proved instrumental in promoting the early career of Amadeo Modigliani. In 1907 Alexandre purchased a number of the artist's paintings and arranged for several prominent commissions, the artist's first. Years later he introduced Modigliani to sculptor Constantin Brancusi, which proved a fruitful relationship.
Paul Alexandre
Fauvism
Fauvism
Fauvism
Fauvism was an early twentieth-century art movement founded by Henri Matisse and André Derain. Labeled as "wild beasts", Fauve artists favored vibrant colors and winding gestural strokes across the canvas.
ArtStory: Fauvism
Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo is a twentieth-century Mexican artist whose work has a strong autobiographical component as it addresses issues of feminism and nationalism. Her work is often associated with Surrealism and she is best known for her many, often uncanny self-portraits.
ArtStory: Frida Kahlo
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Henry Moore was an English sculptor and artist. He was best known for his abstract monumental bronze sculptures. His forms are usually abstractions of the human figure, typically depicting reclining figures, or even more commonly, the mother and child theme.
ArtStory: Henry Moore
Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera was the principal actor in the Mexican Muralism movement and one of Mexico's greatest artists. His large-scale fresco cycles tell the histories of labor, industry, society, and other themes.
ArtStory: Diego Rivera
Modernism
Modernism
Modernism
For all its complexities, Modernism is a term applied to late-nineteenth century and twentieth-century movements - including art, literature, architecture, philosophy, etc. - that promote and postulate the new, free from derivation and historical references. And for the new to be possible, old movements must be altogether adandoned, or in the case of Picasso's Cubism, deconstructed. In these paintings, for example, familair subject matter is taken apart, laid out, and thus seen from an entirely new perspective.
Modernism