Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) Part I

Amedeo Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani was an Italian painter and sculptor, whose portraits and nudes—characterized by asymmetrical compositions, elongated figures, and a simple but monumental use of line—are among the most-important portraits of the 20th century.

Modigliani was born into a Jewish family of merchants. As a child, he suffered from pleurisy and typhus, which prevented him from receiving a conventional education. In 1898 he began to study painting.

After a brief stay in Florence in 1902, he continued his artistic studies in Venice, remaining there until the winter of 1906, when he left for Paris. His early admiration for Italian Renaissance painting—especially that of Siena—was to last throughout his life.

In Paris Modigliani became interested in the Post-Impressionist paintings of Paul Cézanne. His initial important contacts were with the poets André Salmon and Max Jacob, with the artist Pablo Picasso, and—in 1907—with Paul Alexandre, a friend of many avant-garde artists and the first to become interested in Modigliani and to buy his works. In 1908 the artist exhibited five or six paintings at the Salon des Indépendants.

In 1909 Modigliani met the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, on whose advice he seriously studied African sculpture. To prepare himself for creating his own sculpture, he intensified his graphic experiments. In his drawings Modigliani tried to give the function of limiting or enclosing volumes to his contours. In 1912 he exhibited at the Salon d’Automne eight stone heads whose elongated and simplified forms reflect the influence of African sculpture.

Modigliani returned entirely to painting about 1915, but his experience as a sculptor had fundamental consequences for his painting style. The characteristics of Modigliani’s sculptured heads—long necks and noses, simplified features, and long oval faces—became typical of his paintings. He reduced and almost eliminated chiaroscuro (the use of gradations of light and shadow to achieve the illusion of three-dimensionality), and he achieved a sense of solidity with strong contours and the richness of juxtaposed colours.

To be continued in part II




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