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The History of Amedeo Modigliani’s Portraits

20th century

The History of Amedeo Modigliani’s Portraits

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani, the infamous early 20th-century Italian-Jewish painter and sculptor who developed a unique, modern style in the artistic quartiers of Paris, is particularly noted for his portrayal of people – including nudes – with a characteristic and easily recognizable style of elongated faces, necks and bodies in many of his paintings. Although Modigliani’s style is difficult to classify into the established art movements of his times, to some critics his work is reminiscent of Cubism as well as African, Egyptian and Asian face masks.

The history and influences behind Amedeo Modigliani’s portraits is the subject of much debate. It is difficult to judge whether the novel form and expression of his subjects are the result of exotic influences or perhaps of his study of Northern Italian medieval art as well as the work of the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi.

To be sure, Modigliani brought the timeless artistic themes of the portrait and the nude into modern times, working both with sculpture and the canvas to create a style of his own that fascinated both his contemporaries as well as modern audiences.

Woman with red hair, Amadeo Modigliani, 1917, National Gallery of Art, Washington, The History of Amadeo Modigliani's Portraits

Woman with Red Hair, Amedeo Modigliani, 1917, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The Little Peasant, Amadeo Modigliani, 1918, Tate Modern, London, The History of Amadeo Modigliani's Portraits

The Little Peasant, Amedeo Modigliani, 1918, Tate Modern, London

The artist started drawing and painting at a very early age and called himself a “painter” even before starting art school. Between the years of 1904 and 1914 he was strongly devoted to sculpting, but many of his best-known pieces are paintings that were created between 1916 and 1919, with a series of nudes commissioned by his friend Léopold Zborowski, a Polish poet and art dealer who supplied him with working materials, a basic income, and models for his work. This period contrasted with his earlier career, when he lived a purposefully chaotic and rebellious existence, portraying and sculpting mostly his friends and lovers under the influence of excessive alcohol and drugs, and often selling his paintings for just a few francs to be able to cover his restaurant tab.

Portrait of a Young Woman, Amadeo Modigliani, 1918, New Orleans Museum of Art, The History of Amadeo Modigliani's Portraits

Portrait of a Young Woman, Amedeo Modigliani, 1918, New Orleans Museum of Art

Amedeo Modigliani painted so many portraits of women –  especially nude ones – that people began to see him as a reckless playboy, an image that he undoubtedly did not seek to change. It is important to remember that during his times the symbols of sexuality that he expressed were widely considered to be scandalous.

Nude, Amadeo Modigliani, 1917, Private Collection,The history of Amadeo Modigliani's portraits

Nude, Amedeo Modigliani, 1917, Private Collection

Amedeo Modigliani died in 1920 at the age of 35, ravaged by tuberculosis and years of substance abuse, leaving behind a 21-year-old, pregnant finance – Jeanne Hébuterne – who committed suicide a day after his death by jumping from a fifth-floor window. By the end of his life, his addictions and illness had made it almost impossible for him to work and to create. When he passed away, many people who had known him attended his funeral, but as an artist, he died destitute and largely unappreciated outside his circle of friends, in stark contrast to the present, where his pieces fetch some of the highest prices paid for any artist.

Juan Gris, Amadeo Modigliani, 1915, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The history of Amadeo Modigliani's Portraits

Juan Gris, Amedeo Modigliani, 1915, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Woman with a fan, Amadeo Modigliani, 1919, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, The history of Amadeo Modigliani's portraits

Woman with a fan, Amedeo Modigliani, 1919, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

You can see some of Modigliani’s best-known pieces at the Tate Modern in London under the exhibition title of Modigliani until the 2nd of April 2018.

Besides the famous portraits of many of the people in his life (including Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi) there are also remarkable yet lesser-known sculptures to see.

The Ochre Atelier Modigliani VR Experience is an additional feature of the exhibition that allows visitors to visualize the studio where Modigliani lived and worked in Paris during the latter part of his life using virtual reality technology.
Don’t miss the chance!

Portrait of Picasso, Amadeo Modigliani, 1915, Private collection

Portrait of Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, 1915, Private collection

Modigliani Exhibition:

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is a fifth-year student towards her Master of Journalism degree, yet art has always been one of her biggest interests. She especially admires Impressionism, Postimpressionism as well as Realism. As a result, she can never get enough of museums, and therefore loves to travel the world.


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