Progression of Art
The Jewess was the first painting Modigliani sold after settling in Paris in 1906. It was purchased by his friend and patron, Paul Alexandre, who was so taken with the work that he had Modigliani paint it into the background of three additional commissioned portraits. Although wearing a composed expression, the stark whiteness of the sitter's face contrasts harshly with her dark apparel, giving the composition and inner tension and suggesting strong emotions lying beneath the surface. The painting's melancholic overtones have invited comparison with the work of Picasso's Blue Period. The painting is also one of the few Jewish-themed works by Modigliani, who was of Sephardic Jewish descent and publically embraced his Jewish identity.
Oil on canvas - Re Cove Hakone Museum, Kanagawa
Although inspired by Brancusi's marble work, Modigliani's sculptures were often made from softer, less expensive limestone, as in this work. Head's graceful contours and abstracted features suggest Brancusi's influence, while the elongated proportions - specifically, the swan-like neck - is reminiscent of ancient Egyptian busts, among the non-Western art forms that influenced Modigliani's work. The subject's elongated neck and nose, and slit-like eyes also closely resemble the artist's handling of these features in his portraits and nudes, suggesting the close connection between his work in sculpture and two-dimensional media.
Limestone - Private collection
Portrait of Pablo Picasso
Althought insecure about his own work, Modigliani had mixed feelings about Picasso. Modigliani was envious of his rival's success, but drawn to his charismatic personality and artistic talent. These competing feelings emerge in this portrait: this ambivalence is suggested in the two-toned face, while the overall gestural, uneven application of paint hints at inner conflict. Yet, the round face and facial features resemble Southeast Asian depictions of Buddha, showing Modigliani's respect for Picasso's wisdom and experience. This is literally spelled out on the lower right side of the painting with the French word savoir ("to know").
Oil on paper mounted on card - Private collection
Jacques and Berthe Lipchitz
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
Standing Blonde Nude with Dropped Chemise
Modigliani's nudes are often frank depictions of sensuality that frequently reference the traditional handling of this theme, but without the mythological context of their artistic precursors. The present work, for example, suggests Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus - a painting with which Modigliani was undoubtedly familiar from his studies in Florence - through such features as the subject's long blonde hair, tilted head, and the figure's contrapposto. The classic composition, however, is skillfully subverted and heavily modernized. While Botticelli's subject artfully covers her genitals with her flowing locks and smiles placidly, Modigliani's sitter draws attention to this area with her dropped chemise and confronts the viewer with a slight smirk. Such features of the Modigliani painting likely contributed to the uproar generated by the artist's now legendary exhibition at Berthe Weill's gallery in 1917.
Oil on canvas - Private collection
Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne
When Modigliani entered into a relationship with the nineteen-year-old Jeanne Hebuterne, his close friends hoped that the serious young woman would inspire Modigliani to curb his excesses. Hebuterne, however, loved the artist with a blind adoration that made no demands. Although there were no fundamental changes in his behavior, Modigliani's portraits of his young lover suggest the artist's newfound sense of peace and serenity. Less stylized than those in the artist's earlier works, the sitter's features, especially the sly, sideways gaze, suggest a psychological clarity that communicates Hebuterne's inner character.
Oil on canvas - Private collection