8 July—15 October 2006
In The Sackler Wing of Galleries, Burlington House
Amedeo Modigliani, Female Nude, c.1916 © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London Generously supported by a consortium of donors
Buy tickets £2.80—£9
Amedeo Modigliani painted people. In many ways this concise statement sums up the artist’s entire output during his short career in Paris in the first two decades of the twentieth century. No other modern artist concentrated so absolutely on the representation of people. Moreover, in a period when avant-garde art was experimenting with the breakdown of forms, Modigliani steadfastly retained their integrity. Always individual and idiosyncratic, he drew on a variety of sources – Renaissance to Rococo painting, the art of Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne and Brancusi, ancient Greek, African and Asian sculpture – to create his own highly original and modern signature style.
Modigliani’s life story, as told by his contemporaries and biographers since his premature death at the age of 35 in 1920, has tended to overshadow his achievement as an artist. Born into a cultivated Sephardic Jewish family from Livorno in Tuscany, Modigliani studied in his native town and in Florence and Venice, before moving to Paris in 1906. The riveting story of the handsome and dissolute young bohemian’s life in the French capital, brought to an end by a combination of ill health, alcohol consumption and drug abuse, has acquired legendary status. His restlessness was not, however, reflected in his art, which, if sometimes poignant, has none of the nervous expressionistic energy of that of many of his contemporaries. Apart from a handful of landscapes painted in the south of France in 1918, Modigliani’s paintings are restricted to portraits and nudes, most of which were painted in the last six years of his career, between 1913 and 1919.
Modigliani’s friend, the sculptor Jacob Epstein, said: ‘The legend of the debauched artist is just a legend. What legend gives us is an implausible caricature of a man, a painter who left behind only a body of legends. Amedeo Modigliani left behind a life’s work in art.’