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The Amedeo modigliani life

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 4:26 AM
The Bohemian Artist
Modigliani's romantic sensibilities and careless disregard for his health in his intensive pursuit of his artistic talents, led him to fulfil the tragic role of the handsome but doomed youth.
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was born on 12 July 1884 in the Italian Mediterranean port of Livorno. Rumour had it that the Modigliani family were once bankers to the popes and that his mother was descended from the great philosopher, Spinoza. Modigliani encouraged these elaborations which, as usual, contained a degree of truth.
 This photograph shows Eugenia Modigliani with her youngest child Amedeo, then only 13 months old. Eugenia doted on Dedo, as the family called him, and indulged him partly because of his poor state of health.
Amedeo's father, Flaminio, was a businessman who was ruined in the year the boy was born. Flaminio's commercial failure forced him to travel widely and Amedeo's mother, Eugenia, was left to run the household. Both were Sephardic Jews, that is people who were originally descended from the Jewish settlers in Spain. As part of their faith, the Modigliani family respected their ancient traditions and valued a liberal education. In the eyes of the Livorno bourgeoisie, Eugenia was unconventional: she drank tea (an English practice), wrote literary articles and did translation work. This was more practical than progressive for she kept an extended family, and Dedo (as Amedeo was called) was the youngest. 

The young Modigliani grew up in a lively and stimulating environment, soon developing a variety of cultural interests way beyond his years. His mother introduced him to the Romantic and Symbolist poets like Leopardi, Wilde, Baudelaire and Rimbaud. Through his aunt Laure, he became acquainted with the philosophy of Nietzsche who wrote of the artist exiled from society by his creative genius and intuitive nature. Later, during his years in Paris, Modigliani would chant poetry to his friends - verses as elegant and self-contained as his paintings.

 Modigliani arrived in Paris in 1906, and went to live in Montmartre, a haven for artists since the 1880s. The 'dusty and romantic' cabaret, Le Lapin Agile! (depicted here by Utrillo) was where artists gathered to the strains of popular songs. Italian origins
Modigliani was a spoiled and capricious child, partly because he was a beautiful-looking little boy, and partly because of his fragile health. In the summer of 1895, he developed pleurisy and, in 1898, he suffered a serious attack of typhoid. In the same year, his mother wrote in her diary: 'On the first of August, Pedol begins drawing lessons. . . He thinks he's already a painter; as for me, I don't really want to encourage him, in case he completely neglects his studies to pursue this shadow.' Modigliani joined the art class of Guglielmo Micheli in 1898, and soon afterwards formed a breakaway art group. But late in 1900, tuberculosis aggravated by an attack of pleurisy was to put an end to his studies.


Modigliani grew up in the Mediterranean port of Livorno, a lively commercial centre of little artistic interest.
During a period of convalescence, Modigliani travelled to Naples, Amalfi and Capri and later to Rome and Venice. With his health restored, he left his home town in 1902 to study first in Florence, and then in Venice, where he made many friends-among them the painter Umberto Boccioni - and studied the work of the old masters, Bellini, Titian and Carpaccio. 
In January 1906, Modigliani left for Paris, determined to chance his luck as a portrait painter. Here he enthusiastically adopted a similar bohemian lifestyle to that he had sampled in the old quarters of Venice. He used stimulants, mostly hashish and alcohol, maybe in an attempt to overcome his characteristic shyness. Even so, his first French patron, a young doctor called Paul Alexandre, remembered 'a very well brought up young man', who did most things in moderation.
The painter of S Montmartre scenes, Maurice Utrillo, joined I Modigliani on his notorious drinking bouts.

After a few weeks of luxury in a comfortable hotel, Modigliani began to lead a nomadic existence, moving from one lodging house to another, first in Montmartre, then south of the Seine in Montparnasse. The small allowance his mother sent was insufficient to support a life spent increasingly in bars and brothels. Unable to pay his bills, he gave away pictures and did hack work, making portraits in cafés for a few francs. 
Paris made Modigliani sensitive to his Jewish origins; and he discovered spiritual and artistic affinities with the 'peintres maudits', the 'accursed painters', who were mostly Jewish, stateless and poor. Unlike these artists, Modigliani had been trained, and had had a relatively liberal upbringing. His experience was very different there had been neither ghettos nor anti-semitism in Livorno but he shared these artists' insecurities in a foreign city that did not welcome destitute artists, least of all Jewish ones. 


- The dealer Zborowski gave immense support to Modigliani and, at the artist's earnest request, also took his friend, the Jewish émigré painter, Soutine, under his wing.
Distressed by his continual financial hardships, Modigliani's behavior began to deteriorate. He was expelled from Dr Alexandre's artists' community for destroying other members' work: he would become aggressive in discussions on Cubism, the new movement which had ousted Fauvism, and had to be ejected by Libion, the patron of the cafe La Rotonde. Modigliani seemed to be conforming to his adolescent literary inspirations, and also to Nietzsche's ideas of alienated genius. He had anticipated as much in 1901, when he observed in a letter to a friend: 'People like us have different rights from other people like us have different needs which put us... above their morality.
- Modigliani's stormy affair with the South-African-born writer, Beatrice Hastings, whom he painted several times, began in 1914. They drank and took drugs together, she matching his excesses with her own eccentricities.
During these early years in Paris, Modigliani was living an outmoded, 'decadent' image of the artist. He affected an artistic style of dress, 'always in chestnut corduroy, with a brilliant scarf around his neck and with a broad felt hat', as a friend described him, and he despised Picasso's functional workman's overalls. Modigliani's painting, too, was old fashioned, an uncertain synthesis of the styles of Impressionism, Toulouse-Lautrec and Art Nouveau. These were years of experiment and self-discovery. A memorial exhibition of Cezanne's work was held in 1907 and soon Modigliani was imitating Cezanne's way of suggesting form and space through colour. This new preoccupation with form led to his first essays in sculpture. Between 1909 and the outbreak of war in 1914, he produced few paintings. Working next door to the sculptor, Constantin Brancusi, his attention focused on an ambitious and ultimately unrealized, sculptural project of which the completed Caryatids (p.2409) formed only a small part.

During the war years, Modigliani worked in a small studio in La Ruche (The Hive') a twelve-sided building which became the refuge of many bohemian artists, among them the unsophisticated Sot tine amid the Russian, Cha gall.
Modigliani served his real apprenticeship during these years. The demands he made on his weakened constitution were evident to his mother on his return to Livorno in 1909. She indulged him and bought him a new set of clothes. That he had changed was clear to his former art school friends when he made another visit to Livorno in 1912. One observer described him as follows: 'His head was shaven like an escaped convict... He was wearing a miserable linen jacket and open shirt and his trousers were held up by a string'.
 He showed his companions photographs of his sculpture: they said he was mad, and jokingly suggested that he dump them. Modigliani had never felt so artistically isolated.
When Beatrice Hastings, the South African journalist known to her Montparnasse neighbors’ as the 'English poetess', met Modigliani in 1914, it was not his art she, also, considered it unexceptional that attracted her, but his appearance. He was 'the pale ravishing villain' in corduroy. Beatrice gave Modigliani his first sustained relationship. It was a gladiatorial affair with her able to match Modi (as the artists named him) both in wilfulness and in her capacity for drugs and drink. 

The Impoverished Artist 

This strangely decorated cafe in Montmartre provided a refuge for poor artists, offering food and shelter.Modigliani appears to have lived in conditions of extreme poverty soon after his arrival in Paris. He occupied a succession of cheap rooms in Montmartre; then, having moved south of the Seine in 1909, he found cheaper lodgings in Montparnasse. His allowance from home was too small to buy art materials as well as the hashish and absinthe on which he had become dependent. When he turned actively to sculpture, he reputedly stole sleepers from the new Metro line nearby for wood to carve; and many of the Caryatids were created from stone blocks removed from construction sites by night, or lifted from the road surface.

His gradual drifting away from sculpture was compounded by the privations of the First World Win He was often ill; his allowance from home ceased; he was exploited by unscrupulous speculators. Many of his friends were at the Front and the cafés were left to foreigners and invalids.

Yet, paradoxically, his portraits achieved their familiar harmony and greatest insight during the War years. Modigliani was encouraged by the dealer Paul Guillaume, who bought all his works and rented a studio for him. Here, he painted his famous series of nudes, though he seems to have rarely portrayed his lovers in this way.

The Dome was a cafe in Montparnasse much. Frequented by Modigliani, here seen in relaxed pose with his elbow on the table during a discussion with the part-time picture dealer, Adolphe Basler.Modigliani's affair with Beatrice continued to be particularly stormy and violent. Their arguments often deteriorated into physical fights. On one occasion he actually threw Beatrice out of the window and, on another night, he rushed out of their apartment, in a state of shock, having been bitten in the testicles. By 1915, Modigliani had become increasingly dependent on drugs, while Beatrice, unable to curb his excesses, and was now a virtual alcoholic. A year later, their relationship was completely exhausted.

In July 1917, Modigliani met Jeanne Hebuteme, a talented 19-year-old student at the Academie Colarossi. He painted her portrait more than any other, and she bore him a daughter, Jeanne. Her relationship with the artist was as stormy as Beatrice's had been: stories of her ill-treatment in public places by Modigliani are numerous. Unlike the poetess, however, Jeanne was timid, devoted and suffered his infidelities.

Success remained elusive in Modigliani's last years, although a market was cautiously growing, encouraged by Leopold Zborowski who had succeeded Guillaume as Modi's dealer in 1916 and who hawked canvases round Paris by foot on occasions to interest collectors. Indeed, it was not easy to see Modigliani work for he took part in few exhibitions.


In December 1917, his first one-man show was staged at the Berthe Weill gallery. Modigliani had, by that time, received scant notice from the press: even the seven sculpted heads included in the Salon d'Automne of 1912, passed largely unnoticed. Zborowski was therefore keen to attract visitors and put several nudes in the window, which unfortunately faced a police station. Equipped with special powers in wartime, the police objected to the 'obscene' display and closed the exhibition on its opening day.
Cafes provided cheap food and shelter from unheated and unservived studios,also giving artists the opportunity to meet when artists had money they were big spenders otherwise patrons would accept a painting in settlement of bills, thus turning their cafes into informal showplaces cafes were also where artists held their wild fancy dress balls Zborowski was a Polish poet sympathetic to the 'peintres maudits'. He could afford to give Modi a small allowance although he sold little; and to organize a trip for his artists to the South of France in April 1918. Here Modigliani rediscovered his admiration for Cezanne, and also painted his first landscape, as far as we know, since his student days in Italy. He was accompanied to Cagnes-sur-mer by his friend, the painter Soutine, who produced several wild landscapes starkly at odds with his companion's tautly composed images. Towards the end of his life, Modigliani became more superstitious when working, refusing to allow his studio to be cleaned or disturbed as if this might threaten his fragile talent. This uncertainty was probably provoked by his lack of success: financial well-being meant little to him, but self-respect was essential.
Modigliani contracted pneumonia in the bitterly cold January of 1920. After drinking all night in the local bars, always ending up at La Rosemonde, he would roll out into the icy air of the early hours in just his shirt sleeves. 

Contemporaries described him on these occasions as 'very drunk, abusive and terribly emaciated'. A few days before his death, he collapsed in the studio he shared with Jeanne, and the terrified young girl sat watching him dying, without thinking of sending for a doctor. On January 24 he died of tubercular meningitis. He was 35. Jeanne's tragedy is inextricably linked with Modigliani's. Several months pregnant with his second child, she threw herself from an upstairs window at her home soon after his death. Five years later, her body was moved from the bleak cemetery near Bandeaux, and she was buried beside Modigliani at Pere Lachaise.

Writer-Marshall Cavendish


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