He’d had just one solo exhibition (closed by the Parisian police after a day because of its ‘shocking’ nudes), sold only a few works – for little money – and died destitute.
If the stereotype of the self-destructive bohemian artist needed a poster boy, Modigliani would be a prime contender.
|Young Gypsy, 1909|
Tate Modern in London has been hosting a major Modigliani exhibition since November – it closes on 2 April – and after various false starts, The Other Half and I finally caught it, just before seeing the new Picasso exhibition in the same gallery.
The two men knew each other – but what strikes one most when seeing these two exhibitions so close together is the ferocity of their working: Modigliani over the latter part of his short career (he destroyed most of his early work) and Picasso particularly in the single year that the new exhibition seeks to shine a light on.
Both exhibitions also include works that are not the artist’s best, but which provide a deeper context for visitors.
The earliest of Modigliani’s works shown here reveal the influence of Cézanne – not least in the palette – before we reach the elongated figures that are instantly recognisable.
But one of the first exhibits, The Young Gypsy from 1909 tells us straight away where we’re headed, with its accentuated cheekbones, puckered lips and almondised eyes.
|Portrait of Léopold Survage, 1918|
On a personal level, I was delighted to see that the curators had included his portrait of Leopold Survage, a fascinating artist who studied briefly under Matisse in 1905 and later followed in his footsteps to Collioure.
It’s impossible to know whether – and how – Modigliani would have developed were it not for his early death. Some art historians believe he would have gone on to much greater things, but his creativity was such that his work stays long in the mind – perhaps not least because he is pretty much impossible to categorise in terms of labels of any school or style. There is simply Modigliani.