Monday, 4 July 2011

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)

Nude on a Blue Cushion (1917)

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was born in Livorno (Italy) in 1884 and died in Paris in 1920 at the age of 35.

At the age of 14, sick with typhoid and in a delirium, he raved that he wanted to visit the famous art galleries of Florence. On his recovery his mother fulfilled a promise to take him there, and on their return to Livorno enrolled him with Guglielmo Micheli, one of the leading painting masters in the city. He studied landscape painting, portraiture and still life, and also the nude, his particular favourite. Fellow students said that when not painting young women he was pursuing them. He also won the sobriquet from his teacher of Superman. 

He was a dedicated and promising student, but after two years (1898-1900) his studies were brought to a premature halt when he became sick with the onset of tuberculosis. 

In 1902-1903 he studied in Florence and then in Venice, where he began to smoke hashish and spend time in the less reputable parts of the city. Then in 1906 he moved to Paris, where he underwent a gradual transformation from elegant and spruce to unkempt and shabby. But his output was prodigious with literally a hundred drawings in a single day. He also worked entirely in the studio, having rejected outdoor painting at an earlier stage.

In Paris he was influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec and later by Cézanne. He used alcohol and drugs in an attempt perhaps to conceal his tuberculosis from his new friends. When drunk he was known to strip naked at social functions. And he had numerous affairs, most notably with  a recently married Russian poet and translator Anna Akhmatova. And in 1917 he met French artist Jeanne Hébuterne (1898-1920), who became his common law wife. She gave birth to a daughter, and was pregnant when Mogliani died on 24 January 1920. The next day, in a distraught state, she threw herself from a fifth-floor apartment, killing herself and her unborn child.

Mogliani died of tubercular meningitis and was buried in Père Lachaise in Paris. His epitaph reads: Struck down by Death at the moment of Glory. Penniless at his death, since then his reputation has soared, until in 2010 one of his nudes was sold at auction for $68.9. His life has proved irresistible to publishers and film makers, and his daughter Jeanne (1918-1984) wrote his biography Mogliani: Man and Myth.

Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne (1918)

Portrait of Modigliani (1919)
Jeanne Hébuterne
Bride and Groom (1915)

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