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Traditional art with Modernism by Modigliani

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 1:51 AM
Tradition with Modernism 

The young artist Modigliani was enrolled at art school in Livorno at the age of 14. This charcoal sketch, prominently signed by him, could be a self-portrait. But in any case it is a wonderfully sensitive drawing showing the artist's remarkable talent.  
Despite his limited subject matter of portraits and nudes, Modigliani's work was unique in its combination of traditional form with new painting techniques.

Portraits and nudes established themselves as Modigliani's subjects from the beginning, (he painted only a handful of landscapes).

He was not concerned with portraying realistic appearances, but expressing the feeling and mood of his models, especially in relation to himself. Most often, in the early part of his career, tension and anxiety were the recurring motifs, probably echoing those features in his own life at the time.

Living as a poverty-stricken foreigner in Paris brought its own insecurities compounded by his feeling of alienation from the avant-garde artists. His lack of money meant shortage of materials, so his paint was spread thinly and he had to use both sides of the canvas. Nonetheless, certain characteristics emerge as trademarks of his style as early as 1908, fixing his own personal identity as an artist, and these are refined into the elegance and poise of his last pictures. In his portraits sloping shoulders and slender necks support gently tilting heads in which small mouths, long noses and dark, introspective eyes are caught in a hypnotic expression.

Seated Nude (1916) this is one of the artist's earliest nudes. Her torso is drawn naturalistically — only her face is painted in Modigliani's mannered style. Warm red or brown tones usually surround his nudes, but here the predominant color is a cool blue.

From Italy, Modigliani carried with him the influences of Symbolism and Stile Liberty (Art Nouveau) and his early works reflect this in mood and in their linear pattern.

But in Paris, Modigliani discovered Cezanne at his retrospective exhibition in 1907, and his debt to Cezanne is revealed in the construction of his compositions in the arrangement of forms and isolation of planes through color as well as his choppy brushstrokes. Although Cezanne had opened a new direction in art leading to Cubism, he had never lost respect for the integrity of the human form, which became central for Modigliani. 

On his return from summer in Livorno in 1909, Modigliani had decided to realize his deep-seated ambition to become a sculptor. This is how he had introduced himself on his arrival in Paris three years earlier. Between 1909 and 1914 he produced barely twenty pictures. Inspired by the Rumanian sculptor, Brancusi, whom he met in 1909 and next to whom he had a studio for a couple of years, Modigliani was at work during these years on the remarkable heads that integrate the concern for mass, volume and form that had initially attracted him to Cezanne. The force of these mysterious faces lies in their inscrutable expressions, and in their monumentality: one never forgets the rough-hewn limestone block from which they have emerged. They also show a preoccupation with the primitive sculptures of Africa and Oceania which Modigliani shared with his contemporaries.

Caryatid (c.1913) Modigliani planned a sculpture of a crouching caryatid and did a series of watercolor sketches in preparation. They were ideas rather than actual designs, for, like this one, they could not be translated into stone without collapsing.
Modigliani had always considered himself a painter-sculptor, having made his first sculpture at Carrara in 1902, symbolically close to the quarries that had provided Michelangelo with stone. In Paris, he carved the blocks that had been begged or stolen from building sites. But he had never received any training in sculpture and possessed neither the discipline nor the strength (the dust irritated his lungs) to complete his ambitious project to construct a temple to humanity adorned with pillars in the form of caryatids. Unable to find materials in wartime, he ceased sculpting in 1914. The experience inevitably fed his art, giving him a sure sense of form. In fact, his painting began to take on the characteristics of his sculpture,

Especially the modelled faces of his last portraits. The regret at this failure must have cut deep. For in the combination of aggression and finesse that carving demands, Modigliani may have found the best vehicle for his art of personal feeling.
Landscape at Cagnes Modigliani's rare landscapes were done in the South of France. Working with Sou tine, Modigliani may have been affected by the other's passion for landscape.
In his portraits Modigliani showed keen insight into the character of the sitter, a reflection of his own personal opinion. But his approach to nudes was different he rarely painted lovers naked. Instead he used unprofessional models, preferably servant girls. Interestingly, he always painted nudes in series, showing he was working on them exclusively over a period of time. His nudes are blatantly sensual and self confident and stand in the tradition of the genre, alongside those of Titian, Goya and Renoir. Warm colors enhance the sensuous undulating line that encloses the female form, buffeted by animated brushstrokes. Unlike his portraits, their facial expressions seem all to be the same.

Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921) According to Symbolist tradition, 7 it'omen are mysterious and predatory. Here, the Belgian painter Khnopff expresses this through the mmiatt's Sphinx-like enigmatic iiiileand her hypnotic- gaze. The paleness of her face and her fixed stare are reminiscent of death which, in Symbolist imagery, is linked with woman and love. His confident use of line marks out the countless drawings Modigliani made through his career. They were aide-ntemoires in which interesting compositions were stored to be reused sometimes years later, although he never dispensed with a model. Drawing was primarily the preliminary to painting. Jacques Lipchitz recalled Modigliani making lots of drawings rapidly, seldom stopping 'to correct or ponder'.

He would familiarize himself with his sitter in this way, and gradually decide on a pose. When he subsequently turned to the canvas, he worked quickly, 'interrupting only now and then to drink from a bottle standing nearby'. His friend Lunia Czechowska noted that he worked best in a rage, stoked by cheap brandy or rough red wine. The act of painting required an immense emotional investment from the painter, who would move about, sigh deeply and cry out in frustration. He worked intensively in order to complete the picture at only one sitting.

Parmigianino (1503-40) Madonna with the Long that) In this religious painting, theirtist through I to portray refinement through the elongation of his figures, softened by a serpentine curve.
A year before he died, Modigliani went to the South of France. As models he used local people and it may be that his impending paternity moved him to use children as subjects. Here, too, he painted his rare landscapes. All of them feature houses and trees he seemed to shy away from untouched nature. Despite his dislike of the Mediterranean outdoors, his paintings during this period have the airy luminosity of the south. 

Modigliani's contribution to modern art lies in his individuality. Unlike the artists of the avant-garde, for example Picasso, he was not concerned with fragmenting form but in the integrity of form in keeping with the tradition of the past. Yet his modernity is reflected in his use of compositional devices which make his portraits appear new and unique after all, it is impossible to confuse his work with any other artists. Having no school, Modigliani has no successors. 


Portrait of Jacques Lipchitz and his Wife

Both Lipchitz and Modigliani were Jewish, middle class and sculptors, but they do not appear to have been close friends which the portrait seems to reflect in the formality of its composition.

In 1916, Lipchitz commissioned a portrait of himself and his new wife, Berthe, from Modigliani, who informed him, 'My price is ten francs a sitting and a little alcohol'. To familiarize himself with his sitters, Modigliani made numerous drawings and the next day, set to work on an old, primed, canvas. Working intensely, he had finished by the end of the afternoon. Lipchitz wanted to pay him more, and so asked him to paint more 'substance'. 'If you want me to spoil it,' came the reply, 'I can continue'. Modigliani gave another fortnight to the picture.

Lipchitz did not like his portrait and kept it in a closet until, in 1920, soon after Modigliani's death, he exchanged it for some of his own earlier sculptures.

Writer-Marshall Cavendish


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