ALBERTINA — SEPTEMBER 17, 2021 TO JANUARY 9, 2022

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The Sculptor

Modigliani

Modigliani arrived in Paris in 1906 and frequented the circle of Pablo Picasso und André Derain at the Bateau-Lavoir, a run-down house the artists rented as a studio. A trained painter, the twenty-two-year-old artist wanted to become a sculptor. Between 1909 and 1914 he devoted himself almost exclusively to sculpture and to innovations in the plastic arts, impressed by the art of Paul Gauguin, Picasso, and Derain. He met a master of direct carving, an artist immediately working the stone, in Constantin Brancusi. While Picasso stayed behind in Montmartre, Modigliani and Brancusi now lived and worked side by side in the Cité Falguière in Montparnasse. About one third of the artists who had settled there came from abroad. “Montparnasse is the first genuine international colony of artists,” Marcel Duchamp described the neighborhood.

Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, André Salmon, 12th August 1916

© Paris Musées, musée Carnavalet, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image ville de Paris

“Montparnasse is the first genuine international colony of artists”

Marcel Duchamp

During that time, Modigliani developed the features that would characterize his future style, resorting to the art of various prehistoric and non-European civilizations, all of which he would cause to merge in his eclectic approach. 

The extended facial forms, elongated necks resembling slender pillars, and nose wedges are inspired by Cycladic (prehistoric Aegean civilizations, Bronze Age, ca. 3000 BCE) and African sculpture. The faces, solely animated by subtle smiles, and the introverted gazes are borrowed from Asian art. The strict frontal or profile views and the block-like shapes of his sculptures recall ancient Egyptian representations.

  • Amedeo Modigliani | Head, 1911/12 

    © Minneapolis Institute of Art. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Cowles / Bridgeman Images
  • Anthropomorphic mask, 19th century

    © Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, Paris, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrick Gries / Bruno Descoings (previously in the collection of Paul Guillaume)
  • Caryatid stool, Luba, Katanga, Shaba, Congo, before 1919

    © Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Photo : J.-M. Vandyck, RMCA Tervuren
  • Reliquary head, Fang, 19th century

    © Sainsbury Center, University of East Anglia, Norwich (previously in the collection of Paul Guillaume)
  • Female Head, Angkor, Bayon style, end of the 12th – beginning of the 13th century

    © Musée Guimet – Musée national des arts asiatiques, Paris. Photo: RMN-Grand Palais (MNAAG, Paris) / Michel Urtado

Temple of Tenderness

Like the works of Picasso, Derain, and Brancusi, Modigliani’s also show traces of the chisel next to carefully polished areas on the surfaces of longish sandstone blocks, which they had abstracted from construction sites in Paris at night, probably because they were hard up financially.

Modigliani wished to see his sandstone heads combined within a temple celebrating humanity, a “Temple of Voluptuousness,” flanked by “Columns of Tenderness.” The Kabbalah, Dante, theosophical and symbolist literature, and occultism guided his thoughts in this installation. More like Brancusi and different from Picasso, Modigliani was also interested in architecture: the mysterious temples of Angkor at the Museum of Indochina and art from the Egyptian pyramids at the Louvre fascinated him. However, his knowingly smiling creatures are also reminiscent of the biblical cherubim, who are among the few figural representations Judaism permitted.

However, his knowingly smiling creatures are also reminiscent of the biblical cherubim, who are among the few figural representations Judaism permitted

Female Head, Angkor, Bayon style, end of the 12th – beginning of the 13th century

© Musée Guimet – Musée national des arts asiatiques, Paris. Photo: RMN-Grand Palais (MNAAG, Paris) / Michel Urtado

The fusion of these elements and the aestheticism of the fragmentary and archaic point to Modigliani’s search for a timeless beauty detached from specific civilizations and freed from the ideal of the European tradition.

In 1914, Modigliani gave up his career as a sculptor although one year earlier it had been his dream to work in marble when in Carrara. His lung disease thwarted all further ambitions in this direction. 

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