Amedeo Modigliani in Vienna

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Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani: Female Nude Reclining on a Pillow, ca. 1917 Oil on canvas (Staatsgalerie Stuttgart)© bpk, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

Do not miss the opportunity to see the exceptional art of Amedeo Modigliani in the Albertina in Vienna – the exhibition will run until January 9, 2022.

The life of Amedeo Modigliani could be characterized as a constant struggle. He did not receive the award until after his death, and today his works are among the most valuable.

Amedeo Modigliani
Paul Guillaume: Modigliani at his studio, 1915

He was born on July 12, 1884, into a Jewish merchant family in Livorno, Italy. The artist suffered from severe illnesses as a child. He continued living with poor health conditions for the rest of his long life. He had weak lungs and had overcome severe tuberculosis for the first time in puberty.

Modigliani’s poor health did not allow him to attend school regularly, so he was homeschooled by his beloved mother, Eugénie Garsin. She, by the way, was French. She was the one who cultivated a relationship with art in him. He liked it so much that he started attending the painting workshop of the successful Italian artist Guglielmo Micheli in his hometown. In 1902 or 1903, as a young man, he went to study in Florence and Venice and, after a few years, left for Paris.

Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920). “Femme aux yeux bleus”. Huile sur toile, vers 1918. Paris, musée d’Art moderne. Dimensions: 81 x 54 cm

Although Modigliani was fascinated by sculpture, after his health problems, he was forced to end his sculptor career in 1914. He found inspiration in Renaissance art and African, Egyptian, East Asian, and archaic Greek. Finally, the influence of non-European art can also be seen in Modigliani’s artistic portraiture. And although he was primarily a portraitist, he did not paint portraits to order. You can spot elements of cubism in them; the absence of eyes, in turn, refers to African or East Asian art. All this is complemented by a beautiful and captivating work with a subtle image.

In 1916, Modigliani received an offer from the art dealer Leopold Zborowski to paint female nudes. Although they are considered magnificent today, they were outraging at the time. Modigliani’s first solo exhibition (and the only one during his lifetime) ended in failure a year later – under the threat of confiscation by the police, who called the paintings an insult to decency, the gallery was forced to close the exhibition. Modigliani did not sell a single painting.

Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani: Seated Nude (Detail), 1917 Oil on canvas (Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, www.artinflanders.be)

Modigliani met various women in his life. He formed a couple with the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, whom he left for the English writer Beatrice Hastings. However, only the young Jeanne Hébuterne became his fate and inspiration at the same time. They met in 1917 and soon began living together, despite the disapproval of her family. A year later, the couple in love had a daughter, Jeanne.

Modigliani’s health deteriorated again in the following months until he finally died of tuberculous meningitis on January 24, 1920. Grieving friends escorted him to his final resting place, the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Modigliani left behind not only beautiful works but also a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy. Unfortunately, Jeanne’s sorrow was too unbearable. So two days later, she jumped out of the window in the house where her parents took her after the death of her beloved man. Although they were not buried next to each other, they were finally given a common resting place in 1930.

Text: Miriama Vojteková