Happy Birthday, Modernist Modigliani! An Icon Explained Through 6 Works
A painting by Amedeo Modigliani is hard to miss: subjects with oval faces with long, elegant necks and almond-shaped eyes. While it took some time for this early twentieth-century artist to become a recognized name in the art world, he did face many personal obstacles to achieve the career he wanted as a painter and sculptor. (Above: Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne, 1919; Below: Woman's Head, 1912)
As a young teen, Modigliani aspired to become an artist, despite his rural upbringing in the Italian region of Tuscany and much to the concern of his parents, who had their own dramatic shifts of fortune. But when he was struck with typhoid at fourteen and bemoaned never being able to travel from his rural hometown in Italy to see the great collections of art in Florence, his mother made a promise to him to make it happen should he get better. He did and they went, his path unobstructed henceforth (although tuberculosis would make its appearance not too long after when the artist was sixteen and haunt him his whole life). (Above: Boy in a Striped Sweater, 1918; Below: Girl in a Sailor's Blouse, 1918)
Modigliani is also known for his focus on the human body; in this case, reflecting his studies of the classical and Renaissance examples that would have been all around him in Italy.
However like most artists of the early twentieth century, the place to be was Paris. There Modigliani met artists like Renoir, Brâncuși, and Picasso, and even produced some works that have many qualities of Primitivism and Cubism. Above: Lola de Valence, 1915.
What I mostly admire about Modigliani's work is his strong use of line which brings attention to shape and form. Gone too soon for sure (he reportedly eroded his own health and potential with his addiction to such substances as absinthe, dying from a resurgence of TB at the age of 35), but a large body of work to be found in museums and collections around the world.
(All images above courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art).