Expressionist Artist - Amedeo Modigliani
Expressionist art and figurative paintings
Amedeo Modigliani was an Italian Expressionist painter primarily remembered for his figurative work and particularly his provocative nude studies. Modigliani trained under Guglielmo Micheli a member of the Macchiaioli school and at the turn of the 20th century, lived a hedonistic, debauched, avant garde existence in the Montmartre district of Paris. Ill health plagued his life, which with a combination of alcohol and drug abuse was cut tragically short at the age of 35.
Amedeo Modigliani was an Italian Jew born on July 12th 1884 in religiously tolerant city of Liverno, Tuscany. Due to poor health from an early age, his mother taught him at home, where she encouraged and indulged his artistic pursuits. At the age of sixteen and after a particular bad spell of tuberculosis, she fulfilled her promise and took the young Modigliani to see the masterpieces in Florence’s Uffizi gallery.
It was during this visit that Modigliani was enrolled as a pupil with the Macchiaoli artist, Guglielmo Micheli and began his formal training. During the two years he spent here, between 1898 and 1900 he showed great skill and promise but once again his health was to plague him and he left for a sabbatical in the isle of Capri where he continued his painting studies and love of philosophical literature, especially Niechtche and Lautreamont.
Avant garde Paris
Paris in 1906 was the centre of the Avant Garde movement and Modigliani arrived at a time of great artistic experimentation, discovery and innovation. His appearance at this time was one of an artistic dandy; he covered his walls with Renaissance reproductions, wrote to his mother regularly and drank in moderation. Often see at the Academie Colarossi painting and sketching nudes he was considered a shy, retiring, if not antisocial figure.
Upon meeting Picasso he later commented on his encounter with the great artist, describing his saying “even though the man was a genius, that still does not excuse his uncouth appearance.” Within a year Modigliani’s own appearance would change, gone where the Renaissance paintings and he cut a shabbier figure as he descended in to a haze of drug and alcoholic addiction.
There has been much speculation as to the transformation but like many in the artist quarter who suffered with ill health and disease they were determined to enjoy life to the full. His dissolving into taking absinthe and hashish was part of his self-destructive nature, becoming argumentative and entering into streams of meaningless affairs.
Expressionist art influences
Despite the problems he was still producing vast quantities of work, by 1909 after having met art dealer, Paul Guillaume he concentrated more on sculpture and had an exhibition of pieces in the Salon d’Automme in 1912. However by 1914 he was back to painting again and complete a number of studies of his artist acquaintances and friends including Soutine, Moise Kisling, Picasso, Max Jacob and Jean Cocteau.
Other people who affected his life in this time were Welsh painter Nina Mament, English artist Beatrice Hastings who lived with him for two years, and Leopald Zborovski. In 1917 he was introduced to the daughter of a wealthy family, Jeanne Hebuterne, a 19-year-old art student. In December of that year he had his first solo exhibition at the Berthe Weill Gallery, it lasted a couple of hours until the Chief of Police attended and was so mortally offended by the nudes on display that he immediately closed the show down.
The couple started living together and moved to Nice by 1918 they had a daughter and Modigliani continued producing portraits for sale to the tourists. In 1919 they returned once more to Paris and rented an apartment. His health now suddenly rapidly went downhill and in January 1920 a neighbour found him in a delirious state and despite calling for a doctor he died of Tuberculosis Menigitis on the 24th January.
There was a large funeral, attended by many of Paris’s art set from Montmartre and Montparnasse. Jeanne was wracked with inconsolable grief and two days later, in an act of desperation the nine month pregnant woman died when she throw herself out of a fifth floor window.
Modigliani died penniless and destitute, having only had a couple of exhibitions and spent most of his life drawing pictures for food and to pay rent. It is perhaps a tragedy that his works are now considered revolutionary for their time, containing hints of his Renaissance and Macchiaioli instruction, and elements taken from African art.
Deciding early on in life he was not long for this earth he drank deep of it and overdosed on its excesses. His drunken antics, public nudity and ranging arguments were famous in Paris at the time but his work has a softer, gentler nature to it. Sadly much of his work has been lost, thrown out by ex-lovers or left in cupboards of poor boarding houses. What survives shows the use of a subtle palette reminiscent of the cubists, you can see his love of Cézanne and Toulouse-Lautrec within his work and echoes of the impressionist landscapes that he began painting back in Liverno.
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