Amedeo Modigliani: A Failed Life But A Charming Art Gallery
Updated: Feb 17
Italy has always been the talk of the town due to its rich art heritage and the artisans it produced during the Italian Renaissance. The humanistic, artistic, and intellectual movement that brought the period of artistry is well known among artists. Even though the period was in the 15th and 16th centuries, it still impacts the culture now. For many art lovers, it was an inspiration, but one such artist whose inspiration turned the canvas into a splash of colors and geometry is Amedeo Modigliani. Having learned about our article's topic, you need to put your seat belt on so that you can join me on the rollercoaster ride of your epic read. However, before we go into the museum of his works, let's take a look back at his life history to learn more about the inspiration he laid for his Modigliani paintings.
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani
Date of birth
12 July 1884
Date of death
24 January 1920
One of the famous expressionist artists, Amedeo Modigliani, was born into a Jewish family in Livorno, an Italian city with a large Jewish population. His mother, Eugénie Garsin, comes from an intellectual and scholarly family of Sephardic Jews, whose generation lived along the Mediterranean coastline. As fluent speakers of many languages, her ancestors were authorities on holy Jewish texts, making them the founders of Talmudic studies. If one traces their family history, it has linkages with the 17th-century Dutch Philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Flaminio, Modigliani's father, inherited a family of successful businessmen and entrepreneurs who knew how to succeed in business. In addition to being a wealthy mining engineer, Flaminio also managed a mine in Sardinia and owned 30,000 acres of timberland. However, in 1883 due to an economic downturn, their fortune reversed, turning them bankrupt. Despite the harsh conditions, his mother established a school with her two sisters that became a successful enterprise.
Amedeo Modigliani was the fourth child who was born into this financially troubling situation of his family. His birth saved his family from ruin since, according to an ancient law, creditors can not take away things from the bed of a pregnant woman or a mother with a newborn child. Eugenia was in labor when the bailiffs arrived to take their money, so they piled their most valuable assets on top of her to protect them.
Amedeo always had a close relationship with his mother. However, his childhood was strenuous because of his deteriorating health conditions. At 11, he had an attack of pleurisy, which after a few years, developed into typhoid fever. During the same period, his mother noted in her diary that
"his character is still so unformed that I cannot say what I think about him. He behaves like a spoiled child, but he does not lack intelligence. We will have to wait and see what lies inside this chrysalis. Perhaps an artist?"
When he reached 14, he started schooling under Gugliemo Micheli, who was renowned at that period due to his free line; his students had a free hand so that they did not suffer from the rigid academic learning methods of the period. During his typhoid fever illness, at fourteen, he raved in his delirium that he wanted to see all the paintings at the Palazzo Pitti and Uffizi in Florence. He was fascinated by the tales he had heard about the great works held in Florence, but it was a source of considerable despair for him as Livorno's local museum only housed a few paintings by Italian Renaissance masters. So his mother promised she would take him to Florence to see all the artworks once he recovered. In addition to fulfilling this promise, she enrolled him with Guglielmo Micheli, the best painter in Livorno.
When he was 15, he had severe typhoid fever, but despite his poor health, he dedicated his time to art. He dropped out of school and gave his shot at art by meeting Oscar Ghiglia at Micheli Academy. Oscar was eight years older than Amedeo but became his good friend. At that time, he decided to become the first free artist by deriving income from paint brushes. Their friendship remained intact till Modigliani's life. Oscar's style of painting which was master in portraiture and still life, later form part of Ademeo's art.
When he reached 16, he was ill again and contracted deadly tuberculosis. After he recovered from the second bout of pleurisy, he went to tour southern Italy with his mother: Naples, Capri, Rome, and Amalfi, then north to Florence and Venice. He owes much of his ability to pursue art as a vocation to his mother. During his trip, he wrote letters to his friend Oscar, in which he describes artworks and museums. One of his letters says,
"(hold sacred all) which can exalt and excite your intelligence... (and) ... seek to provoke ... and to perpetuate ... these fertile stimuli, because they can push the intelligence to its maximum creative power."
During this period of his life, he was reading Lautréamont, poetries which were the juxtaposition of fantastical elements and sad imagery, that was quite influential, and Amedeo loved it to the extent that he byhearted the book.
In 1906, he left for Paris because it was a hub for artists. He settled in Le Bateau-Lavoir, a commune for penniless artists in Montmartre, renting himself a studio. At the start, he regularly wrote letters to his mother and sketched nude at Académie Colarossi. He was keeping himself reserved by nature and had wine in moderation. In December of the same year, he showed three paintings at Laura Wylde Gallery. He made women with pale colors and a monochromatic style, which created old master styles of the Italian Renaissance. It bought him no sales.
Later he discovered the work of Pierre Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, and Picasso, but his favorite was Paul Cezanne. After a year, he changed his personality completely into a sort of prince of vagabonds.
When he met poet and journalist Louis Latourette, he was already an alcoholic and a drug addict which his studio reflected. This time he discarded all the previous Renaissance reproductions and started building up his style. He removed all the trappings of his bourgeois heritage from his studio and destroyed all his early work as he considered them childish baubles. Among Modigliani paintings, now comes his own new style of art.
It is unclear what motivated his violent rejection of his former self. The year 1907 crafted his charade persona, and soon his reputation converted into a hopeless drunk and a drug user. This escalating drug usage was probably to ease his pain from tuberculosis which was incurable at that time, just like AIDS. His desire to maintain camaraderie ensured that Modigliani was not isolated as an invalid, and he suppressed any signs of his disease, which was slowly taking over his body. Historians suggest that his intake of drugs and alcohol was to ease his physical pain, allowing him to proceed with art.
In 1908, he finally got the opportunity to showcase his work at the Independents Salon. It was the same time when he had a love affair with Maude Abrantes, an American woman who was already married. Due to his influence on Cezanne, he made at least two portraits of Maude that showed the development of color. It was also the period when he wanted to be a sculptor though he painted.
It was a difficult time for him in 1910, bringing him no money. He visited exhibitions of Paul Cezzane thrice. The year did not bring him any sales of his artwork, so he started thinking about becoming a sculptor. He started his relationship with Russian Anna Akhmatova, the wife of a renowned poet. She was his first serious love of life, but after a year, she returned to her husband.
The intensity of Modigliani's drug and alcohol use increased after about 1914. It was the period in which the symptoms of his tuberculosis worsened, signaling an advanced stage of the disease after years of remission and recurrence.
As a young artist, he sought validation and acceptance for his work from colleagues such as Utrillo and Soutine. Even in these Bohemian environs, Modigliani's behavior stood out: he had frequent affairs, drank heavily, and took absinthe and hashish. Occasionally, he stripped naked at social gatherings when drunk. Almost as well known as Vincent van Gogh, he became the epitome of the tragic artist.
In 1916, he made dozen of the best nudes that constitute his best work. The series of nudes was commissioned by his very close friend and dealer Léopold Zborowski, who lent Amedeo to use his apartment and supplied models and painting materials too.
This arrangement differed from Zborowski's previous portrayals of friends and lovers in that the paintings were either commissioned by Zborowski for his collection, as a favor to a friend or with a commercial view in mind, rather than originating from the artist's circle.
For its sensational public reception and its attendant issues of obscenity, the 1917 Paris show was Modigliani's only solo exhibition in his lifetime. On opening day, the gallery's storefront window was closed by police, but the show continued. In the spring of the same year, Russian sculptor Chana Orloff introduced him to a beautiful 19-year-old art student named Jeanne Hébuterne. She belonged to a Roman Catholic family, which was very conservative, but instead, they moved in together. After he and Jeanne moved in together, she became pregnant in 1918, and they named their daughter, Jeanne.
In 1920, Amedeo died due to his worsening health conditions due to tuberculosis. At that time, Jeanne was pregnant with his second child. There was an enormous funeral of Amedeo attended by many artistic communities. Soon after his death, Jeanne's parents took her away, but her selfless love was so pure that she took her life by falling from a five-storey building with her child. She was buried at Cimetière de Bagneux near Paris, but in 1930, her family allowed her body to rest beside Modigliani. His obituary reads,
Struck down by Death at the moment of glory.
Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice.
Now that we know about his life history, let us move on to Amedeo Modigliani famous artworks.
9 Modigliani Famous Paintings Representating Expressionism Art.
1. Jeanne Hebuterne, 1919 by Amedeo Modigliani.
Name Amedeo Modigliani, and you may hear the name, Jeanne. She was his beloved wife, daughter's mother, and an immense inspiration to the selfless love of Amedeo. When Amedeo went out with Jeanne, his friends all knew that she will be his wife than just another girlfriend. The painting is her portrait with the form of expressionism. He painted her on two dark background with innocent and caring eyes that depicts her love towards him. He portrays a symmetrical face, whereas art critics say about her gaze as grave and introverted. In the top-right corner, he lays his signature on his artwork.
2. Reclining Nude, 1917 by Amedeo Modigliani.
Amedeo became famous after his best-known works were created in Paris from 1915 to 1919. Those naked painting were portraits striking the details of likeliness and nudes. The nude portrait painting that showcases reclining women series began in 1916 and was the most celebrated one that continues a tradition of depictions of Venus till the nineteenth century from the Italian Renaissance period. He showed eroticism here, with the female lying sidewards in her provocative and frank manner. The slim female figure woman lies on the dark bedsheets, which glorifies her smooth and glowing skin. Her facial expressions reveal sensual feelings. The painting is not about Amedeos relationships, but she is a model posing like this. Her gracefully half-slept facial expressions are the remarkable ones here.
3. Nude Sitting on a Divan, 1917 by Amedeo Modigliani.
Nude Sitting on a Divan was created by Amedeo Modigliani in 1917 and depicts a partially draped woman seated on a divan with crossed legs against a warm red background. In addition to exhibiting an abstracted and erotically detailed quality, it also objectifies the subject's sexuality in a manner that references nude figures of the Italian Renaissance. As a result, they "exemplify his position between tradition and modernism". It showcases the naked lady with an air of objectification with a bold setting. The uniformly thick, rough application of paint - as if applied by a sculptor's hand - focuses more on the mass and visceral perception of women than on titillation and the creation of translucent, tactile flesh.
4. Madam Pompadour, 1915 by Amedeo Modigliani.
Amedeo Modigliani emphasizes a strong formal structure in Madam Pompadour, where a grid dominates the background and curves echo the sitter's hat, shoulders, and face. It lacks the pathos often associated with his work. This portrait appears to be infused with ironic detachment, even humor by the artist, as indicated by both the title (which refers to Madame de Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV of France) and the sitter's expression of amused inscrutability. This picture reflects the lessons of Paul Cezanne, Picasso, and African sculpture while rhyming forms and keeping us visually interested and off balance.
5. Gypsy Woman with a Baby, 1919 by Amedeo Modigliani.
In the painting by Amedeo Modigliani, there is a strong undercurrent of Italian heritage Gypsy Woman with Baby, but its simplicity belies its level of awareness. She has an oval face (which could be read as mask-like indifference, depending on your tastes), which reminds me of Botticelli's long visages. In particular, the elongated neck of her figure reflects the Mannerist style of the 16th century. She dances down her skirt, crosses her chest, and follows her face in the same manner as Sienese painters of the 14th century. In light of Modigliani's ambiguous influences, he is a significant Italian painter of the 20th century, rather than a French-formed artist.
6. Madame Georges van Muyden, 1917 by Amedeo Modigliani
Considering that Amedeo Modigliani generally painted portraits of fellow bohemians, this may be one of the few portraits he painted as a commission. It is due to these circumstances that the sitter appears so composed, elegant, and self-possessed. The dark background and dress contrast the glowing skin of her body, unlike other works of Modigliani. Her pink blush and red lips with a side glance are an addition to her looks.
7. Reclining Nude with Blue Cushion, 1917 by Amedeo Modigliani.
In this nude portrait painting of Amedeo Modigliani, the model's face is unique, and her expressions add eroticism. Though the model's body is otherwise slim, the painter has rather unkindly given her not only a shiny nose but also a double chin. Modigliani rarely depicts such features in his portraits. As a result of the slender body, the composition is strongly diagonal, underlined by the right arm cradling the head while the left arm remains hidden. A very famous and beautiful depiction of the nude is that of Giorgione's Sleeping Venus. However, Modigliani is not as willing or daring to show the right arm as Giorgione does. His extra use of red pigments, blue eyes, and sharp features on the model are additions to the beauty of this artwork. He carefully puts her in the dark background to let her skin shine.