Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (12 July 1884 – 24 January 1920) was an Italian Jewish painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. He is known for portraits and nudes in a modern style characterized by elongation of faces, necks, and figures that were not received well during his lifetime but later found acceptance. Modigliani spent his youth in Italy, where he studied the art of antiquity and the Renaissance. In 1906 he moved to Paris, where he came into contact with such artists as Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brâncuși. By 1912 Modigliani was exhibiting highly stylized sculptures with Cubists of the Section d’Or group at the Salon d’Automne.
Modigliani’s oeuvre includes paintings and drawings. From 1909 to 1914 he devoted himself mainly to sculpture. His main subject was portraits and full figures, both in the images and in the sculptures. Modigliani had little success while alive, but after his death achieved great popularity. He died of tubercular meningitis, at the age of 35, in Paris.
FAMILY AND EARLY LIFE
Modigliani was born into a Sephardic Jewish family in Livorno, Italy. A port city, Livorno had long served as a refuge for those persecuted for their religion, and was home to a large Jewish community. His maternal great-great-grandfather, Solomon Garsin, had immigrated to Livorno in the 18th century as a refugee.
Modigliani’s mother, Eugénie Garsin, born and raised in Marseille, was descended from an intellectual, scholarly family of Sephardic ancestry that for generations had lived along the Mediterranean coastline. Fluent in many languages, her ancestors were authorities on sacred Jewish texts and had founded a school of Talmudic studies. Family legend traced the family lineage to the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza. The family business was a credit agency with branches in Livorno, Marseille, Tunis, and London, though their fortunes ebbed and flowed.
Modigliani’s father, Flaminio, was a member of an Italian Jewish family of successful businessmen and entrepreneurs. While not as culturally sophisticated as the Garsins, they knew how to invest in and develop thriving business endeavors. When the Garsin and Modigliani families announced the engagement of their children, Flaminio was a wealthy young mining engineer. He managed the mine in Sardinia and also managed the almost 30,000 acres (12,141 ha) of timberland the family owned.
A reversal in fortune occurred to this prosperous family in 1883. An economic downturn in the price of metal plunged the Modiglianis into bankruptcy. Ever resourceful, Modigliani’s mother used her social contacts to establish a school and, along with her two sisters, made the school into a successful enterprise.
Amedeo Modigliani was the fourth child, whose birth coincided with the disastrous financial collapse of his father’s business interests. Amedeo’s birth saved the family from ruin; according to an ancient law, creditors could not seize the bed of a pregnant woman or a mother with a newborn child. The bailiffs entered the family’s home just as Eugenia went into labour; the family protected their most valuable assets by piling them on top of her.
Modigliani had a close relationship with his mother, who taught him at home until he was 10. Beset with health problems after an attack of pleurisy when he was about 11, a few years later he developed a case of typhoid fever. When he was 16 he was taken ill again and contracted the tuberculosis which would later claim his life. After Modigliani recovered from the second bout of pleurisy, his mother took him on a tour of southern Italy: Naples, Capri, Rome and Amalfi, then north to Florence and Venice.
His mother was, in many ways, instrumental in his ability to pursue art as a vocation. When he was 11 years of age, she had noted in her diary: “The child’s character is still so unformed that I cannot say what I think of it. He behaves like a spoiled child, but he does not lack intelligence. We shall have to wait and see what is inside this chrysalis. Perhaps an artist?”
- Head of a Woman with a Hat (1907)
- Portrait of Juan Gris (1915)
- Portrait of the Art Dealer Paul Guillaume (1916)
- Portrait of Jean Cocteau (1916)
- Nu couché (1917-1918)
- Seated Nude (ca. 1918), Honolulu Museum of Art
- Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne (1918)
- Woman with a Fan (1919), stolen from the Paris Modern Art Museum on 19 May 2010 and portrayed in the films Trance and Skyfall
- Portrait of Marios Varvoglis (1920; Modigliani’s last painting)
27 sculptures by Modigliani are known to exist
- Tête (1910/1912)
- Head of a Woman (1910/1911).
- Head (1911–1913).
- Head (1911–1912).
- Head (1912).
- Rose Caryatid (1914).