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Expressionist Artist - Amedeo Modigliani

Updated on August 15, 2010

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.

Modigliani in his studio
Modigliani in his studio
Self Portrait
Self Portrait

Micchiaioli beginings

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.

Beautiful Confectioner
Beautiful Confectioner
Chaim Sultine
Chaim Sultine
Madam Modot
Madam Modot

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.

Madam Dedie
Madam Dedie
Seated Nude
Seated Nude
Leopald Zborowski
Leopald Zborowski

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.

Jeanne Hebuterne seated
Jeanne Hebuterne seated
Jeanne Hebuterne raised arm
Jeanne Hebuterne raised arm

Expressionist Legacy

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.

Other Artists on this Hub

Leading Female Renaissance Painters 1400 - 1650 The forgotten few.

Welsh Female Artist - Gwen John

Austrailan Impressionist Painter - Rupert Bunny A friend of Rodin, who lived in Paris at the same time as Gwen

Renaissance Painters - Jacopo Bassano

Female Renaissance Artist - Sophonisba Anguissola
Tutored by Michelangelo, member of Accademia della Arte, died aged 90.

Female Baroque Artist - Artemisia Gentileschi Follower of Caravaggio's style, painter to the Court of Charles I

Baroque Painter - Caraggavio
Leading light of the Baroque movement, died tragically young

Rococo Portrait Painter - Rosalba Carriera

Dadaist - Hannah Hoch


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    • knell63 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Thanks Billy, I enjoy the simplicity of his paintings. There is a big exhibition of his work opening up in Northern Italy this week and would love to pop up to see it.

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      9 years ago

      I am a big fan of Modigliani's work and studied some of the avante garde and Dada period back in university so found this a very enjoyable hub. Thanks.

    • knell63 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Thank you both for your support.

      Hello, you'd be surprised at what artists down the ages have gotten up to in the name of freeing the mind.

      GL, Your comments have cheered me up no end, and made the afternoons work seem worthwhile. There are so many really good artists out there just waiting to be rediscovered by people.

    • G L Strout profile image

      G L Strout 

      9 years ago from Ohio, USA

      I am always eager to read your pages. You are expanding my art history knowledge by leaps and bounds! Thank you!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for the introduction. I didn't know that drugs were used already in those days. Thank you for your hub about a talented painter.


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