Friday, December 4, 2009

Amedeo Modigliani

"His art was an art of personal feeling. He worked furiously, dashing off drawing after drawing without stopping to correct or ponder. He worked, it seemed, entirely by instinct--which, however, was extremely fine and sensitive, perhaps owing much to his Italian inheritance and his love of the painting of the early Renaissance masters."--Jacques Lipshitz,

Modigliani was born into a Jewish family in Livorno, Italy on July 12, 1884. His father was a money-changer, but his business failed and the family lived in poverty. Amedeo's birth saved the family from ruin, because according to an ancient law, creditors could not seize the bed of a pregnant woman or a mother with a newborn child. The money collecters entered the family's home just as Eugenia went into labour and the family protected their most valuable assets by piling them on top of her.

Modigliani worked in Gugliemo Micheli's Art School 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. Modigliani showed great promise while with Micheli, but was forced to stop his studies by the onset of tuberculosis.

He was exposed to philosophical literature as a young boy by his grandfather and read and was influenced by the writings of Nietzsche, Baudelaire, Carducci, Comte de Lautréamont, and others, and developed the belief that the only route to true creativity was through defiance and disorder.

In 1906 Modigliani moved to Paris.
He settled in Le Bateau-Lavoir, a commune for penniless artists in Montmartre, renting himself a studio in Rue Caulaincourt. He soon made efforts to assume the guise of the bohemian artist, hiding his bourgeoisie past. Within a year of arriving in Paris, his demeanor and reputation had changed dramatically. He transformed himself from a respectable academic into a sort of prince of vagabonds. Modigliani soon became known in Paris for his debauchery: ">he carried on frequent affairs, drank heavily, and used absinthe and hashish. While drunk, he would sometimes strip himself naked at social gatherings.

In addition to his appearance, he removed all signs of his bourgeois heritage from his studio, and he also set about destroying practically all of his own early work. He explained this extraordinary course of actions to his neighhors:
“Childish baubles, done when I was a dirty bourgeois.”

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, by 1914 he abandoned sculpting and focused solely on his painting. On December 3, 1917, Modigliani's first solo 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 exhibitio she became pregnant and on November 29, 1918 gave birth to a daughter whom they named Jeanne.

Although he continued to paint, Modigliani's health was deteriorating rapidly.. 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-- 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. Hébuterne was buried at the Cimitiere de Bagnieux, his at the Pere Lachaise 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."

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,
He met the first serious love of his life, Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, in 1910, when he was 26. After a year, however, Anna returned to her husband.
In Modigliani's art, there is evidence of the influence of art from Africa and Cambodia which he may have seen in the Musée de l'Homme, but 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 tribal 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 mask-like appearance, with distinctive almond eyes, pursed mouths, twisted noses, and elongated necks. However these same characteristics are shared by Medieval European sculpture and painting.
Modigliani painted 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.

"Although Modigliani died so young, he accomplished what he had wanted. He said to me time and time again that he wanted a short but intense life-- une vie breve mais intense"- Jacques Lipshitz

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