AMEDEO MOGIDLIANI (Livorno, 12 July 1884 – Paris 24 January 1920) Amedeo Modigliani was born in Livorno on 12 July 1884, the fourth and last child of Flaminio and Eugenia, both Sephardic Jews. In July of that year the family businesses went bankrupt, coinciding with a generalised crisis throughout Italy, and the family had to move to a more modest house. During his childhood Modigliani would visit his uncle Isaac who would recite poems and talk to him about philosophy and the works of art he had seen on his travels around Europe. In 1895 Modigliani had his first attack of pleurisy, which, together with the lung infection that he contracted in 1900, would determine the course of his short life, plagued with illness. In 1902 Modigliani enrolled at the “Free Nude School” in Florence, where he attended Fattori’s classes, and in 1903 he started studies at the Fine Arts Institute in Venice, the city where he made friends with the Chilean painter Manuel Ortiz de Zárate. The latter had recently arrived from Paris and told Modigliani about Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Cézanne, arousing a burning desire on Modigliani’s part to go to Paris. In Venice he visited churches and museums, studying the technique of the early Italian painters. He was particularly interested in the 14th-century Sienese masters as well as Carpaccio and Bellini.
In 1906 Modigliani moved to Paris, settling in Montmartre. He met Picasso and the group of artists and writers associated with him: Apollinaire, André Derain, Max Jacob, Maurice de Vlaminck and Kees van Dongen, among others. In 1907 he took part in the Salon d’Automne where he studied and admired the work of Cézanne. Paul Alexandre saw Modigliani’s work at the Salon and made contact with him, becoming a friend and patron. Together they visited the Musée Ethnographique of the Louvre, the Trocadero, as well as antique and souvenir shops in search of tribal art. Modigliani’s knowledge of African art would be crucial for his development as a sculptor.
In 1909 he decided to move to Montparnasse where he met Brancusi who encouraged him to carve directly from the stone and who would advise him on practical issues. Between that year and 1915 Modigliani primarily devoted himself to sculpture without completely abandoning painting. With the start of World War I in 1914 the relaxed, bohemian years of Montmartre came to an end: Braque, Derain and Paul Alexandre were among those called up; Kisling and Zadkine joined the Foreign Legion, while Modigliani tried to unsuccessfully. That same year he met Beatrice Hastings and they embarked on a stormy relationship. They were regulars of the intellectual circle formed by Archipenko, Jean Cocteau, Juan Gris, Lipchitz, Picasso, Erik Satie and Max Jacob. The latter introduced Modigliani to the art dealer Paul Guillaume who would become a crucial support at a time when there were fewer collectors due to the war and when Modigliani’s family could no longer assist him financially.
In March 1916 the Modern Gallery in New York exhibited two of the artist’s sculptures along with works by Brancusi, introducing their work to the American public while making both artists reference points for the new generation of American sculptures. In July of that year the exhibition L’Art moderneen Francewas held in Paris, through which Modigliani met the Polish poet and art dealer Léopold Zborowski. Impressed by Modigliani’s work, Zborowski obtained Guillaume’s permission to become his representative. In early 1917 Modigliani met a shy art student, the 19-year old Jeanne Hébuterne and they embarked on a relationship. In December of that year Galerie Berthe Weill held the only monographic exhibition devoted to Modigliani during his lifetime. So great was the scandal provoked by one of the nudes in the gallery window that the police were obliged to attend on the opening day.
Given the possible threat of a German invasion of Paris, Modigliani and Jeanne Hébuterne moved to Nice in April 1918, where Jeanne gave birth to their daughter of the same name. Due to a lack of professional models to hand, Modigliani painted children, working people, maids and street characters. He also executed a number of landscapes, although this would not be a genre he particularly favoured. His favourite motif continued to be Jeanne. While Modigliani remained in Nice, in Paris the exhibition Peintres d’Aujourd’hui was the subject of considerable attention and critics proclaimed Modigliani to be one of the most important artists of his generation.
In the summer of 1919 the Exhibition ofFrench Art 1914-1919 was held in London. It was widely praised by critics and the public and Modigliani was the artist with most works on display. At this period he only painted close friends, Jeanne and a few other commissions, such as the portrait of the collector Roger Dutilleul, in whose house Modigliani admired various canvases by Picasso. At this time Modigliani began to suffer frequents attacks of coughing that produced haemorrhages. He became ill and spent various weeks in bed, until the middle of January 1920 when he was moved to the Hôpital de la Charité. He died on 24 January. Jeanne killed herself two days later, throwing herself from her parents’ fifth floor apartment. On 27 January a huge crowd attended Modigliani’s funeral, accompanying his body to the Père Lachaise Cemetery.