Amedeo Modigliani

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (July 12, 1884 – January 24, 1920) was an Jewish Italian painter and sculptor. Modigliani was born in Livorno, Tuscany and began his artistic studies in Italy before moving to Paris in 1906 where he began to create his unique style, influenced by the artists in his circle of friends, primitive art, but standing apart from them stylistically. Sick most of his life, he partook of alcohol and drugs, and was a philanderer, he died at the age of 35.

Early life

Born into a Jewish family in Livorno, Tuscany, Italy, Modigliani was the fourth child of Flaminio Modigliani and his French-born wife, Eugénie Garsin. His father was in the money-changing business, but when the business went bankrupt the family lived in poverty.Beset with health problems after a bout of typhoid at the age of 14, he contracted tuberculosis two years later. The tuberculosis affected him for the rest of his life. He, as well as other family members, experienced depression. From a stubborn, independent lot, in 1898 his 26-year-old brother, Emmanuel, was sentenced to six months imprisonment for anarchist activities.In 1902, Modigliani enrolled in the Free School of Nude Studies (Scuola libera di Nudo) in Florence and a year later moved to Venice where he registered to study at the Istituto per le Belle Arti di Venezia. It is in Venice that he first smoked hashish and, rather than studying, began to spend time frequenting disreputable parts of the city.


In 1906, Modigliani moved to Paris, the then focal point of the avant-garde, where became the epitome of the tragic artist, creating a posthumous legend almost as famous as that of Vincent van Gogh.Settling in Le Bateau-Lavoir, a commune for penniless artists in Montmartre, he was soon busy painting, at first influenced by the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec until Paul Cézanne changed his views. Eventually, Modigliani developed his own unique style, one that cannot be adequately categorized with other artists.He was noted for his fast work, usually finishing a portrait in one or two sittings and never reworked. Yet, those who posed for him said that being painted by Modigliani was like having their soul laid bare.

Experiments with sculpture

Head (1911) Note the influence of Cambodian art in this sculpture.In 1909, Modigliani returned home to Livorno, sickly and tired from his wild lifestyle. He did not stay in Italy long and soon he was back in Paris, this time renting a studio in Montparnasse. He originally saw himself as a sculptor rather than a painter, and he began sculpting seriously after Paul Guillaume, an ambitious young art dealer, took an interest in his work and introduced him to sculptor Constantin Brancusi.Although a series of Modigliani's sculptures were exhibited in the Salon d'Automne of 1912, he abruptly abandoned sculpting and focused solely on his painting.In Modigliani's art, there is evidence the influence of primitive art from Africa and Cambodia which he may have seen in the Musée de l'Homme. His interest in African masks shows in the treatment of the sitters' faces in his portraits. The sitter's faces appear ancient, almost resembling ancient Egyptian painting in their flat and masklike appearance, with distinctive almond eyes, pursed mouths, twisted noses, and elongated necks.Among his works is the portrait of his hard-drinking friend Chaim Soutine plus portraits of many of his other Montparnasse contemporaries such as Moise Kisling, Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Marie Marevna Vorobyev-Stebeslka, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Blaise Cendrars, and Jean Cocteau.At the outset of World War I, he tried to enlist in the army but was refused because of his poor health.

The war years

Madame Pompadour by ModiglianiKnown as Modì by the art world, but as Dedo to his friends, Modigliani was a handsome man, and attracted much female attention.Women came and went until Beatrice Hastings entered his life. She stayed with him for almost two years, was the subject for several of his portraits, including Madame Pompadour, and the object of much of his drunken wrath.Drunk, he was a bitter, angry person, looking for a fight as was depicted in the famous drawing by Marie Vassilieff. Sober, he was graciously timid and charming, would quote Dante Alighieri and recite poems from Lautreamont's book, Les Chants de Maldoror, a copy of which he always carried with him.When the British painter Nina Hamnett arrived in Montparnasse in 1914, on her first evening there the smiling man at the next table in the café introduced himself as Modigliani; painter and Jew. They became great friends.In 1916, Modigliani befriended the Polish poet and art dealer Leopold Zborovski and his wife Anna. Modigliani painted them several times, charging only 10 francs "and a little alcohol" for a portrait.

Jeanne Hébuterne

Jeanne Hébuterne in Red ShawlThe following summer, the Russian sculptor Chana Orloff introduced him to a beautiful 18-year-old art student named Jeanne Hébuterne who had posed for Foujita. From a conservative bourgeois background, Hébuterne was renounced by her devout Roman Catholic family for her liaison with the painter whom they saw as little more than a debauched derelict and, worse yet, a Jew. Despite her family, soon they were living together and although Hébuterne was the love of his life, their public scenes became more renown than Modigliani's individual drunken exhibitions.On December 3, 1917, Modigliani's first one-man exhibition opened at the Berthe Weill Gallery. The chief of the Paris police was scandalized by Modigliani's nudes and forced him to close the exhibition within a few hours after its opening.That same year, Modigliani received a letter from former lover Simone Thirioux, a French-Canadian woman, who informed him that she had given birth to his son. Modigliani never acknowledged paternity of the child.After moving to Nice with Hébuterne she became pregnant and on November 29, 1918 gave birth to a daughter who they named Jeanne


While in Nice, a trip organized by Leopold Zborovski for Modigliani, Tsuguharu Foujita and other artists to sell their works to rich tourists. Modigliani managed to sell a few pictures but only for a few francs each. Despite this, during this time he produced most of the paintings that later became his most popular and valued works.During his lifetime he sold a number of his works, but never for any great amount of money. What funds he did receive, soon vanished for his habits.In May of 1919 he returned to Paris, where, with Hébuterne and their daughter, he rented an apartment in the rue de la Grande Chaumière. While there, both Hébuterne and Modigliani painted portraits of each other, and of themselves.


Although he continued to paint, Modigliani's health was deteriorating rapidly, and his alcohol-induced blackouts became more frequent.In 1920, after not hearing from him for several days, his downstairs neighbor checked on the family, and found Modigliani in bed delirious and holding onto Hébuterne who was nearly nine months pregnant. They summoned a doctor, but there little could be done because Modigliani had tubercular meningitis.Modigliani died without regaining consciousness. There was an enormous funeral, attended by many from the artistic communities in Montmartre and Montparnasse.Hébuterne, who had been taken to her parents' home, threw herself out of a fifth-floor window two days after Modigliani's death, killing herself and her unborn child.Modigliani was interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery. Hébuterne was buried at the Cimetière de Bagneux near Paris, and it was not until 1930 that her embittered family allowed her body to be moved to rest beside Modigliani.