Modigliani, Amedeo

Modigliani, Amedeo Biography

Italian painter and sculptor, who was concerned with graceful, simplified, and sympathetic portrayal of the human figure.

Amedeo Modigliani was born in Livorno. He studied art in Florence and in 1906 moved to Paris, where he became acquainted with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and other avant-garde artists living there. In Paris, Modigliani led a reckless, dissipated life that gradually took its toll on his health. His artistic gifts, however, were never doubted by fellow artists. He was influenced by fauvism and later by the work of his friend, the sculptor Constantin Brancusi.

The oil paintings of Modigliani, highly characteristic and delicate, are marked by sinuous lines, simple, flat forms, and elongated proportions that are almost classical in effect. Portraits and figure studies constitute most of his work, and both are characterized by the oval faces for which he is popularly known. The portraits, although of the utmost simplicity in contour, reveal considerable psychological insight and a curious sense of pathos. Amedeo Modigliani was not a professional portraitist; for him the portrait was only an occasion to isolate a figure as a kind of sculptural relief through firm and expressive contour drawing. He painted his friends, personalities of the Parisian artistic and literary world, but also unimportant people: models, servants, girls from the neighbourhood. In 1917 he began painting a series of large female nudes that, with their warm, glowing coloursand sensuous, rounded forms, are among his best works. In December, Berthe Weill organized a one-man show for him in her gallery, but the police judged the nudes indecent and had them removed.

His last love affair began in the same year, 1917, with the young painter Jeanne Hebuterne, with whom he went to live on the Cote d'Azur. Their daughter Jeanne was born in November 1918. This was also a happy period for his painting, which became increasingly refined in line and delicate in colour. A more tranquil life and the climate of the Mediterranean, however, did not restore the artist's undermined health. After returning to Paris in May 1919, he became ill in January 1920 and 10 days later died of tubercular meningitis. Next day, Jeanne Hebuterne killed herself and an unborn child by jumping from a window.

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