12 July 1884 – 24 January 1920) Was an Italian Jewish painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. He is known for portraits and nudes in a modern style characterized by a surreal elongation of faces, necks, and figures that were not received well during his lifetime, but later became much sought-after. Modigliani spent his youth in Italy, where he studied the art of antiquity and the Renaissance. In 1906, he moved to Paris, where he came into contact with such artists as Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brâncuși. By 1912 Modigliani was exhibiting highly stylized sculptures with Cubists of the Section d'Or group at the Salon d'Automne.
Modigliani's oeuvre includes paintings and drawings. From 1909 to 1914, he devoted himself mainly to sculpture. His main subject was portraits and full figures, both in the images and in the sculptures. Modigliani had little success while alive, but after his death achieved great popularity. He died of tubercular meningitis, at the age of 35, in Paris.
Modigliani was born into a Sephardic Jewish family in Livorno, Italy. A port city, Livorno had long served as a refuge for those persecuted for their religion, and was home to a large Jewish community. His maternal great-great-grandfather, Solomon Garsin, had immigrated to Livorno in the 18th century as a refugee. Modigliani's mother, Eugénie Garsin, born and raised in Marseille, was descended from an intellectual, scholarly family of Sephardic ancestry that for generations had lived along the Mediterranean coastline. Fluent in many languages, her ancestors were authorities on sacred Jewish texts and had founded a school of Talmudic studies. Family legend traced the family lineage to the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza. The family business was a credit agency with branches in Livorno, Marseille, Tunis, and London, though their fortunes ebbed and flowed. Modigliani's father, Flaminio, was a member of an Italian Jewish family of successful businessmen and entrepreneurs. While not as culturally sophisticated as the Garsins, they knew how to invest in and develop thriving business endeavors. When the Garsin and Modigliani families announced the engagement of their children, Flaminio was a wealthy young mining engineer. He managed the mine in Sardinia and also managed the almost 30,000 acres (12,141 ha) of timberland the family owned. A reversal in fortune occurred to this prosperous family in 1883. An economic downturn in the price of metal plunged the Modiglianis into bankruptcy. Ever resourceful, Modigliani's mother used her social contacts to establish a school and, along with her two sisters, made the school into a successful enterprise.
Amedeo Modigliani was the fourth child, whose birth coincided with the disastrous financial collapse of his father's business interests. Amedeo's birth saved the family from ruin; according to an ancient law, creditors could not seize the bed of a pregnant woman or a mother with a newborn child. The bailiffs entered the family's home just as Eugénie went into labour; the family protected their most valuable assets by piling them on top of her.
Modigliani had a close relationship with his mother, who taught him at home until he was 10. Beset with health problems after an attack of pleurisy when he was about 11, a few years later he developed a case of typhoid fever. When he was 16 he was taken ill again and contracted the tuberculosis which would later claim his life. After Modigliani recovered from the second bout of pleurisy, his mother took him on a tour of southern Italy: Naples, Capri, Rome and Amalfi, then north to Florence and Venice. His mother was, in many ways, instrumental in his ability to pursue art as a vocation. When he was 11 years of age, she had noted in her diary: "The child's character is still so unformed that I cannot say what I think of it. He behaves like a spoiled child, but he does not lack intelligence. We shall have to wait and see what is inside this chrysalis. Perhaps an artist?" In 1906, Modigliani moved to Paris, then the focal point of the avant-garde. In fact, his arrival at the centre of artistic experimentation coincided with the arrival of two other foreigners who were also to leave their marks upon the art world: Gino Severini and Juan Gris. He later befriended Jacob Epstein, they aimed to set up a studio together with a shared vision to create a Temple of Beauty to be enjoyed by all, for which Modigliani created drawings and paintings of the intended stone caryatids for ‘The Pillars of Tenderness’ which would support the imagined temple.
Modigliani squatted in the Bateau-Lavoir a commune for penniless artists in Montmartre, renting himself a studio in Rue Caulaincourt. Even though this artists' quarter of Montmartre was characterized by generalized poverty, Modigliani himself presented—initially, at least—as one would expect the son of a family trying to maintain the appearances of its lost financial standing to present: his wardrobe was dapper without ostentation, and the studio he rented was appointed in a style appropriate to someone with a finely attuned taste in plush drapery and Renaissance reproductions.
He soon made efforts to assume the guise of the bohemian artist, but, even in his brown corduroys, scarlet scarf and large black hat, he continued to appear as if he were slumming it, having fallen upon harder times. When he first arrived in Paris, he wrote home regularly to his mother, he sketched his nudes at the Académie Colarossi, and he drank wine in moderation. He was at that time considered by those who knew him as a bit reserved, verging on the asocial. He is noted to have commented, upon meeting Picasso who, at the time, was wearing his trademark workmen's clothes, that even though the man was a genius, that did not excuse his uncouth appearance.
Within a year of arriving in Paris, however, his demeanour and reputation had changed dramatically. He transformed himself from a dapper academician artist into a sort of prince of vagabonds. The poet and journalist Louis Latourette, upon visiting the artist's previously well-appointed studio after his transformation, discovered the place in upheaval, the Renaissance reproductions discarded from the walls, the plush drapes in disarray. Modigliani was already an alcoholic and a drug addict by this time, and his studio reflected this. Modigliani's behaviour at this time sheds some light upon his developing style as an artist, in that the studio had become almost a sacrificial effigy for all that he resented about the academic art that had marked his life and his training up to that point. Not only did he remove all the trappings of his bourgeois heritage from his studio, but he also set about destroying practically all of his own early work, which he described as "Childish baubles, done when I was a dirty bourgeois".
The motivation for this violent rejection of his earlier self is the subject of considerable speculation. From the time of his arrival in Paris, Modigliani consciously crafted a charade persona for himself and cultivated his reputation as a hopeless drunk and voracious drug user. His escalating intake of drugs and alcohol may have been a means by which Modigliani masked his tuberculosis from his acquaintances, few of whom knew of his condition Tuberculosis—the leading cause of death in France by 1900w as highly communicable, there was no cure, and those who had it were feared, ostracized, and pitied. Modigliani thrived on camaraderie and would not let himself be isolated as an invalid; he used drink and drugs as palliatives to ease his physical pain, helping him to maintain a façade of vitality and allowing him to continue to create his art. Modigliani's use of drink and drugs intensified from about 1914 onward. After years of remission and recurrence, this was the period during which the symptoms of his tuberculosis worsened, signaling that the disease had reached an advanced stage.
He sought the company of artists such as Utrillo and Soutine, seeking acceptance and validation for his work from his colleagues. Modigliani's behavior stood out even in these Bohemian surroundings: he carried on frequent affairs, drank heavily, and used absinthe and hashish. While drunk, he would sometimes strip himself naked at social gatherings. He died in Paris, aged 35. He became the epitome of the tragic artist, creating a posthumous legend almost as well-known as that of Vincent van Gogh. During the 1920s, in the wake of Modigliani's career and spurred on by comments by André Salmon crediting hashish and absinthe with the genesis of Modigliani's style, many hopefuls tried to emulate his "success" by embarking on a path of substance abuse and bohemian excess. Salmon claimed that whereas Modigliani was a totally pedestrian artist when sober, "...from the day that he abandoned himself to certain forms of debauchery, an unexpected light came upon him, transforming his art. From that day on, he became one who must be counted among the masters of living art." Some art historians suggest that it is entirely possible that Modigliani would have achieved even greater artistic heights had he not been immured in, and destroyed by, his own self-indulgences.
Photo: Musée de l'Orangerie