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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Modigliani, Amedeo


Portrait of a Woman
1918
oil on canvas
65.0 x 48.3 cm
Cleveland Museum of Art, OH, USA

“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.” (Modigliani)

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884-1920) was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. He was born as the forth and the youngest child in the family, which belonged to the secularized Jewish bourgeoisie. Today, he is known for his paintings and sculptures in a modern style characterized by mask-like faces and elongation of form but during his brief career few apart from his fellow artists were aware of his gifts. He had to struggle against poverty and chronic ill health.

He met the first serious love of his life, Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, when he was 26. Anna was tall with dark hair, pale skin and grey-green eyes, she embodied Modigliani's aesthetic ideal and the pair became engrossed in each other, although in later years they became apart. In 1914, the First World War broke out and he wanted to enlist but was exempted from military service for health reasons. In 1917, he met the 19-year old Jeanne Hebuterne (1898-1920), student of the academy and started to live together. "She was gentle, shy, quiet and delicate. A little bit depressive". She became his major model until his death, he painted her no less than 25 times. In 1918, Modigliani and Jeanne left Paris, which was under the threat of occupation by Germans, and went for the southern coast. In Nice and its environments he produced most of the paintings that would later become his most popular and highest-priced works. In November, 1918 in Nice, Jeanne  gave birth to a girl.

After returning to Paris, by the end of 1919, he became seriously ill with tubercular meningitis, exacerbated by poverty, overwork and addiction to alcohol and narcotics, and he died on January 24, 1920, at the age of 35. When he died, his pregnant wife of nearly nine months was emotionally destroyed by his death. The day after his death, she jumped out of a fifth storey window and killed herself and her unborn child. They were finally buried together in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. Their orphan daughter was adopted by Modigliani’s sister in Florence; later she would write an important biography of her father Modigliani : Man and Myth.