As a key figure in the École de Paris, Modigliani updated the portraits and the nudity, two subjects that have endured throughout the art world's history. Modigliani's portraits are distinct and strongly stylized, each distinctive revealing its sitter's inner life while at the same time being undeniably "Modiglianized," to use the words of one critic. They are labeled by a sense of melancholy, elongated proportions, and mask-like faces influenced by sources like African art and Constantin Brancusi. How Modigliani pictured features like pubic hair and their open, undisguised sexuality scandalized viewers. The subject of three biographical films, Modigliani's legacy is inextricably linked to his devastating and bohemian life, including the dicey health that had afflicted him since childhood, his ongoing poverty, and - perhaps most legendarily - his extravagant, deleterious lifestyle that included promiscuity, excessive drug and alcohol use, and other vices.
In Livorno, Italy, which had a substantial Jewish community, Amedeo, or "Dedo," Modigliani was the youngest of four children born to Jewish parents Flaminio and Eugenia. The Modiglianis were pressured to file for bankruptcy shortly before his birth, even though their family businesses had undergone money troubles. Many priceless heirlooms may have been saved as a result of Amedeo's prompt arrival; according to local folklore, troops were compelled to stay away from Eugenia as she gave birth as they came to reclaim the furniture because an antiquity Italian custom forbade the seizure of any possessions in the bed of a woman in labor.
Amedeo's upbringing was hugely affected by Isaac and Laure Garsin, Eugenia's father and sister. Amedeo was taught literature, poetry, philosophy, and the visual arts by the well-educated Garsins from a young age. Amedeo first had one of the severe sicknesses he would suffer throughout his infancy in 1895. He initially expressed his desire to become an artist to his mother while he was ill with typhoid. Although Eugenia wanted her son to have an academic education, she ultimately gave in to his requests, as she detailed in her diary: "He starts to take drawing lessons on August 1st , something he has long wanted to do. He appears to believe that he is already a painter." The following year, Amadeo stopped attending his normal classes to study with Guglielmo Micheli, his drawing instructor.
Modigliani recovered with his mother in southern Italy after receiving a TB diagnosis in 1901. He became familiar with traditional Italian sculpture and painting through trips to Naples, Rome, Florence, and Venice museums, which fuelled his interest in the fine arts. After those who returned to Livorno, he persuaded his mother to let him move to Florence, where he could enroll in the Scuola Libera di Nudo to study figure drawing. He migrated to Pietrasanta in 1903 to devote his time to sculpture, perhaps prompted by his enthusiasm for Michelangelo. Still, he realized he needed more energy for the laborious and time-consuming technique of stone sculpting.
Modigliani met Manuel Ortiz de Zarate, an artist who had partnered with the Impressionists, in Florence. Modigliani decided to follow his goals in Paris after reading Zarate's depictions of the city and the avant-garde, but his mother urged him to remain in Florence. Modigliani migrated to Venice in search of fresh possibilities and enrolled in the Scuola Libera di Nudo at the Istituto de Belli Arti, which he considered to have an extremely learning culture. He was introduced to illegal narcotics in the surrounding taverns and cafés, where he also established a predilection for creating art. In 1906, after becoming more disenchanted with the Italian art scene, his mother finally gave her consent for him to relocate to Paris.
In the first few months after arriving in Paris, Modigliani decided to visit the local art galleries and museums before subscribing to the Académie Colarossi. He soon became a participant in the Bateau Lavoir group, along with Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Pablo Picasso, André Salmon, and other notable writers and artists. Modigliani focused on painting as he looked for a novel aesthetic that might compete with the avant-garde movements in Paris. The Post-Impressionists are highly regarded in works from this period. The Art Nouveau-inspired collinear design of Head of a Woman Wearing a Hat (1907) discloses Modigliani's early interest in portraying psychological characteristics. However, the woman's shoulders are tilted, and her face is insightful and imaginative, showing Henri de Toulouse-influence. Lautrec's
Three paintings by Modigliani were shown in 1906 at the Laura Wylda Gallery, so neither sales nor recognition of his work were produced. He knocked on galleries door to door, frequently exchanging his works of art for food or other necessities. Modigliani's comorbidity worsened his health issues due to his frustration with his lack of achievements. A friend and much-needed steward of his work, Paul Alexandre, whom he met in 1907, gave him a sense of renewed attainment and a consistent source of work. The Jewess (1908), a painting influenced by Paul Cézanne and the German Expressionists, was among Alexandre's best works by the artist. The densely painted canvas's solid shapes and dark colors starkly contrast with the previous Head of a Woman's delicate contours. The composition's dominant blue tones give it a sorrowful feel, and the contrasts of black and white show intense emotion. The Jewess was one of five works Modigliani chose for the twenty-fourth Salon des Indépendants, but it received very little attention.
Modigliani, who had met Constantin Brancusi through Alexandre in 1909, turned to the artist to get his mind back on carvings. Brancusi's simplistic forms left a lasting effect on Modigliani, and the older artist's approach began to appear in his work, such as in the limestone Head (1910-12). Modigliani used elements from "primitive" African and Southeast Asian art, endorsed by many Parisian avant-garde artists like Picasso, to help him achieve the purification of form he sought in his artworks.
Paul Guillaume, an art dealer, was introduced to Modigliani by Max Jacob in 1914. Guillaume purchased a few paintings and agreed to promote Modigliani's work. Modigliani continued to sell his paintings door to door despite his poor income. In July, he first met Emily Alice Haigh, an English author, and poet popularly known by her pen name Beatrice Hastings. She later became his lover and the subject of several paintings. This idea appealed to Modigliani because many of these portraits have a divinity quality that suggests a comparison between Hastings and Dante's Beatrice. Hastings tried to encourage Modigliani's art, but the two fell out over his opulent way of life. He became severely ill from undernourishment and drunkenness shortly after they split up.
Modigliani kept painting portraits after trying to regain his strength because he couldn't handle the physical demands of sculpture. By this point, he had integrated the avant-garde influences from Paris. He established his distinctive painting style, marked by exquisite linearity and the portrayal of stylized but emotional characters. The best of these pieces, like the artist's 1916 portrait of Jacques Lipchitz and his wife Berthe, offer subtle hints about the sitter's character.
Leopold Zborowski, a Polish poet and art dealer, and Modigliani decided to work together that year. Zborowski organized the artist's first and only art exhibition during his lifetime, which took place in December 1917 at the Berthe Weill Gallery. Weill placed a sensual nude in the front window to draw in onlookers. The local cops briefly shut down the exhibition because they were scandalized, but the unintended publicity helped the usually struggling artist earn more money than usual.
A young Académie Colarossi painting student named Jeanne Hebuterne was introduced to Modigliani in 1917. Hebuterne later became his common-law wife after they fell in love. Zborowski thought their partnership would give Modigliani new ideas for his pictures and a degree of security for the artist to help control his wild lifestyle. Zborowski had committed himself to help Modigliani's work. Even though he proceeded to use drugs and alcohol during their time together, the photographs of Hebuterne showed the artist's newly discovered sense of calm. She gave birth to a daughter in 1918, who was named after her mother.
Even though his works did not have much financial performance during his lifetime, they rose in reputation after his passing. Currently, Modigliani ranks among the most well-known 20th-century painters. Modigliani created a unique style that combined elements of contemporary European artistic trends like Cubism with non-Western art forms like African masks without being especially connected to any specific or formal movement. His portraits and nudes challenged the rules of both genres, trying to combine innovative formal experimentation with piercing forthrightness and psychological insight in a way that won the admiration of Modigliani's contemporaries in the arts, including the painter Chaim Soutine, a close friend and fellow member of the École de Paris.
But Modigliani's artistic legacy is still connected to the romantic myth of the ideal bohemian artist; one connected with an opulent lifestyle and Jeanne Hebuterne's tragic suicide the day after Modigliani passed away. Three films on his life and times have indeed been made to date; all three focus on this legend and present him as a passionate person who leads a lavish, terrible life. Additionally, at least nine biographies of the artist have been written that, in varied degrees, touch on this issue. One of these biographies was written by his daughter, Jeanne Modigliani, and is appropriately titled Modigliani: Man and Myth.
Famous works by Amedeo Modigliani
The Jewess 1908
Portrait of Pablo Picasso 1915
Jacques and Berthe Lipchitz 1916
Standing Blonde Nude with Dropped Chemise 1917
Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne 1918