ALBERTINA — SEPTEMBER 17, 2021 TO JANUARY 9, 2022

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Biografie EN

Biography

Modigliani

A Life between Classical Art and Modernism

The ALBERTINA is the first museum in Central Europe to devote a major exhibition to the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. Although he was only moderately successful with his art during his lifetime, his works are now sold for hundreds of millions. The exciting tension of his art, oscillating between the avant-garde and archaic art, also reflects his own dramatic life. 

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was born in Livorno, Tuscany, in 1884 into an impoverished family of Sephardic Jews the fourth and last child. His father, dealing in coal and wood, had gone bankrupt due to the bad economic situation. Modigliani’s mother, who originally came from Marseille, substantially contributed to the family’s income as a translator and private tutor. Thanks to her, Modigliani learned French at an early age, which facilitated his future life in Paris.

The drama of Modigliani’s life can hardly be surpassed: at the age of eleven, he suffered from severe pleurisy; when he was fourteen years old, he fell ill with typhoid fever, which was then considered fatal; later he caught a chronic form of tuberculosis that eventually led up to his death.

Paul Guillaume | Modigliani at his studio, 1915

Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, RMN – Grand Palais, Photo Archives Jean Bouret

Paul Guillaume | Modigliani at his studio, Rue Ravignan, Montmatre, Paris, 1915

© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée de l'Orangerie) / Archives Alain Bouret, image Dominique Couto

Jeanne Hébuterne, 1919

Photo: Fonds Hébuterne – Fabrice Gousset

Moving from rue du Delta, 1913

Photo: Marc Restellini

Maurice Drouard | The studio at rue du Delta, 1913

Photo: Marc Restellini

Paul Guillaume | Paul Guillaume, Mme Archipenko and Modigliani at Promenade des Anglais in Nice

© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée de l'Orangerie) / Archives Alain Bouret, image Dominique Couto

Modigliani’s studio at Cité Falguière, ca. 1914

Photo: Marc Restellini

Marc Vaux | Amedeo Modigliani 

© Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Fonds Marc Vaux

Although he was only moderately successful with his art during his lifetime, his works are now sold for hundreds of millions

The Parisian Years: from “Dedo” to “Modi”

According to his mother’s memories, “Dedo,” as he was called by his family, fantasized about his destination as an artist during one of his feverish childhood dreams: after his recovery, his parents permitted Modigliani to quit school and take up art studies. In 1898, at the age of fourteen, Modigliano dropped out of high school and became the youngest student at a private art school. Very soon, in 1902, he would switch to the academies of Florence and Venice.

Two years later, Modigliani moved to Paris, which at the turn of the century was the international center of the arts. The metropolis was a melting pot of contemporary avant-gardes. Spanish, Italian, and Russian artists working in the city came to be the representatives of the École de Paris: Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, and Diego Rivera—it was thus no wonder that the twenty-two-year-old Modigliani, soon called “Modi” by the bohemian Parisian society, felt attracted to the city on the Seine. Interrupted by journeys to his native country, Modigliani was to live in Paris for fourteen years altogether.

 

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Spanish, Italian, and Russian artists working in the city came to be the representatives of the École de Paris: Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, and Diego Rivera

A Style Breaking the Rules

Joining Brancusi, Modigliani devoted himself to sculpture from 1909 to 1914. He moved to the Cité Falguière in Montparnasse. Influenced by Gauguin, the two artists borrowed from non-European and archaic art. In 1912, Modigliani presented sculptures at the Salon d’Automne. The austere, overly elongated forms of Modigliani’s stone sculptures would soon also characterize his painting style. As success also failed to materialize in sculpture and working the stone was exhaustive and produced a lot of dust that was probably detrimental to Modigliani’s health with regard to his chronically weak lungs, he returned to painting, particularly to portraiture. However, in his painted oeuvre he revisited the style of his sculptural work while also borrowing from Fauvism and Cubism. Nevertheless, his output cannot be assigned to any of these movements but rather represents their avant-gardist synthesis of a lone artistic fighter.

In 1916, the art dealer Leopold Zborowski from Poland offered Modigliani a contract. In his studio in the rue Joseph Bara in Montparnasse, Modigliani painted some twenty nudes. In April 1917 he met his great love, the nineteen-year-old Jeanne Hébuterne, an art student at the private Académie Colarossi. They soon moved into an apartment in the rue de la Grande Chaumière in Montparnasse. That same year, the only solo exhibition he had during his lifetime was held at the gallery of Berthe Weill. Because nudity was openly presented, the show became a huge scandal.

Jeanne Hébuterne, 1919

Photo: Fonds Hébuterne – Fabrice Gousset

Nevertheless, his output cannot be assigned to any of these movements but rather represents their avant-gardist synthesis of a lone artistic fighter

The Final Years

In 1918, shortly before the end of World War I, when Paris was the target of German air raids and there was the danger of a German invasion, the couple left the city for the South of France. For a year they stayed in Cagnes-sur-Mer, where Jeanne gave birth to their daughter in November 1918. When Jeanne became pregnant again in 1919, she and Modigliani became engaged. Unfortunately, the planned wedding could not take place, as towards the end of the year Modigliani fell seriously ill with tuberculosis and died at the Charité in Paris on January 24, 1920. Eight months pregnant, his fiancée followed him two days later by committing suicide.

 

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“Everyone had the profound feeling that Montparnasse had lost someone precious and essential”

Jacques Lipschitz

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