Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884-1920)
Born in Tuscany, Italy, Amedeo Clemente Modigliani would become one of the most mysterious and tragically legendary painters of his time. Ignored by his contemporaries and critics, Modigliani created a style all his own which is highly sought after today by collectors, and is respected and admired by today's art critics and appreciators alike. Many would try to pinpoint Modigliani's style throughout the years, with his work obviously showing traits of Cubism. However, Modigliani never really related himself to Cubism, and in essence, created a league of his own.
A brief stint at the Free School of Nudes in Florence in 1902, followed by the Instituto per le Belle Arti in Venice was the beginning of Modigliani's studies. However, he was not truly focused on his work at this time, spending it socializing as many young college students do. This would only be the start of self-destructive behavior that would eventually be the cause of his undoing. All his life, Modigliani would struggle and suffer, but continue to make beautiful portraits and paintings just the same.
He moved to Paris in 1906, and never again received any real academic artistic training. Modigliani basically taught himself by studying the works of Pablo Picasso, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Cezanne while in Paris. It is particularly the work of Cezanne which would stick with Modigliani, and be one of his biggest influences. He became friends with artists like Foujita, even though he was often seen by the public as a volatile drunk. Many of Modigliani's models would attest that he would even drink as he painted, so the possibility of traces of bourbon being found on his portraits is both sad and hilarious.
Modigliani would become known mostly for his flat, yet languid and reclining portraits and nudes. These elongated portraits created an elegant look that has yet to be matched in portraiture. Some of his nudes are so sensual that some critics have even called them pornographic.
With the exception of a very few landscapes, Modigliani painted portraits exclusively.
Those who posed for Modigliani would often say that he had a way of painting that would simply bare their soul.
"What I am seeking is not the real and not the unreal but rather the unconscious,
the mystery of the instinctive in the human race"
In these portraits, and all of his work, Modigliani's style is quite clearly recognizable, characterized by the flat, mostly expressionless empty-eyed faces on his subjects. This was a result of his love for primitive sculpture, tribal masks and African art in particular. Coming from another artist, this style may have look alien, dark or somber, but by Modigliani's hand, it was beautiful and elegant. His compositions were relatively simple, and usually painted in warm earth tones, and it is said that he almost never retouched or fixed his paintings.
Like many artists, Modigliani would become infatuated with or have affairs with his female portrait sitters. One such famous sitter was "Lunia", who appears often in his work. Modigliani and Lunia Czechovska would become lifelong friends after a chance meeting with his art dealer. As legend has it, he saw Lunia across a room and began feverishly sketching her. His forwardness initially frightened her, but Modigliani was eventually able to persuade Lunia to model for him. She would eventually become a great support to Modigliani, helping to raise his children and take care of him, and even bringing him new models to paint from time to time (in general, Modigliani could not afford to pay for models, so this was a great help to the artist). The bond between artist and model is obvious in his portraits of her, and it is said that Lunia's graceful curves and features created some of Modigliani's most intriguing nudes. Although Lunia was married to a soldier, the extreme bond held between the two suggests that perhaps there was more to their relationship than just friendship.
Another model that Modigliani eventually became involved with was Jeanne Hebuterne. Heburterne first met Modigliani when she was 18, and had already posed for Foujita. She is often portrayed in his paintings almost as a goddess of fertility,a nod to Modigliani's interest in African and tribal art. He would portray Hebuterne and others with large thighs and hips in regal poses, insinuating motherhood, much like ancient Venus,mother earth or fertility goddess images and figurines.
Hebuterne was in fact the mother of one of his children, and met her own tragic end shortly after Modigliani died. Distraught over his death, Hebuterne threw herself out of a 5th story window, killing her and her unborn child. In life, Hebuterne's love for the artist was stronger than family ties, and she renounced her own wealthy bourgeois family to live the bohemian life with Modigliani. Though they were never married, their public fights and often volatile relationship would become legendary.
Other famous models include Beatrice Hastings, one of his lovers and first models who posed for his famous portrait Lady Pompadour.
Modigliani's love for tribal art can also be seen in his earliest work which was actually sculpture. The artist originally thought of himself as a sculptor and created beautiful busts that are later echoed in his portraits. He began sculpting initially in 1909 when he met sculptor Constantin Brancussi. Sadly, materials became scarce with the onset of World War 1 and Modigliani took to painting at this time. He did exhibit his work at the Salon d'Automne in 1912, but was not known to sculpt at all after this time.
Throughout Modigliani's life, his self-destructive behavior fought against him in the harshest ways. He was not often able to sell his paintings for much money, and what little he did make often went to pay for his drug and alcohol addiction. Modigliani lived in a number of different places, from Montmarte to Nice, selling his paintings as he traveled and moved. Because of this, Modigliani could have sold a number of paintings in a number of locations, making the full extent of his catalogue unknown.
Modigliani continued to paint up until his death at the age of 35, but by then his health was clearly deteriorating. He died of tubercular meningitis, complicated and brought on most likely by his reckless lifestyle.
Today, Modigliani's work is highly sought after, and he is touted as being one of the most important and revolutionary artists of his time. His paintings easily sell for millions of dollars, and his sketches are even priced in the hundred-thousand dollar range. His drawings, in particular, are often the subject of scandal because some authenticators find them hard to validate.
There have been attempts in the past to forge his work (one time as a joke from a group of art students) but good research can always determine his originals from fakes. In his very short career as an artist (about 11 years) Modigliani managed to capture a style and idea that is still celebrated long after he was gone.
Do you think you may own a piece of work by this great artist? We authenticate, appraise and research all works by Amedeo Clemente Modigliani.
Last year in Paris, Marc Restellini abandoned his catalogue raisonne of Modigliani drawings, claiming that he had had death threats and that other sorts of pressure had been put on him, including an attempt to bribe his parents.
He says he was receiving up to 20 calls a day: "Some owners of drawings," he says, "were prepared to do anything to get their drawings included in the catalogue. "First they write to Daniel Wildenstein, then they put pressure on my assistant. It is extremely tiring. I met a lawyer at the Basel fair; he said to me, 'My drawing is authentic, I am going to take you to court'. I told Daniel, he said we will stop work [on the drawings], I agreed."
Christian Parisot said he has also received threats. "I had to go to court in an armoured car for my own protection, he says, talking about his appearance as a witness in an Italian case involving fake Modigliani heads which were produced by students as a gag in 1985 (the ensuing lawsuit has dragged on for 17 years).