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Amedeo’s Modigliani’s Tragic Life

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was an Italian Jewish painter and sculptor.

Today, Modigliani is extremely famous for his iconic nudes and elongated facial portraits. Ironically however, in his short lifetime, Modigliani was a struggling and destitute artist. In order to eat, he often bartered artworks for meals and rent.

A photo of Amedeo Modigliani towards the end of his life
A photo of Amedeo Modigliani towards the end of his life [Public Domain]

Modigliani was also extremely reckless and constantly intoxicated from drugs and alcohol. Historians believe that his severe substance abuse was a cover up for his battle with the deathly tuberculosis which he contracted as a young boy. In those days, tuberculosis was incurable & a highly contagious disease. It was also one of the leading causes of death in France. Many of Modigliani’s friends in Paris were unaware that he was even sick with this disease. He hid it well.

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Modigliani – The Prince of Vagabonds

Amedeo Modigliani was called by many who knew him, the”prince of vagabonds” as he dressed shabbily & was constantly drunk. Others called him Modi, which was a play on the French word Maudit, meaning “cursed”.

Sadly, Modigliani died of tuberculosis related complications at the young age of 35. He died totally destitute. Ironically, immediately after his funeral, people in the art world took an interest in his paintings. Today, his paintings sell for millions of dollars in the most prestigious art auctions all over the world.

Three Major Amedeo Modigliani Artworks You Should Know!

In Modigliani’s short life time, he was an extremely prolific artist. However, many of his artworks are lost. A great number of his early paintings were destroyed by Modigliani himself. He rejected them as being too immature or a product of his earlier life as a “dirty bourgeois.” Modigliani abandoned other artworks when he moved apartments in Paris. He also gave away artworks to lovers who often threw them away.

Despite so many artworks that cannot be accounted for, there are still over 1400 Modigliani artworks on display in art museums around the world. There are also many paintings that are owned privately, by those rich enough to afford them!

Amedeo Modigliani artwork
Amedeo Modigliani painting

Below are three groups of Modigliani artworks that you should know!

1. Modigliani’s Scandalous Nude Paintings

Amedeo Modigliani was not a successful artist in his lifetime However, he did manage to land one solo exhibition at the avant garde art gallery in Paris gallery, Galerie B. Weill . For this exhibition, Modigliani decided to create a series of nudes, which today are considered his most famous (and expensive) paintings.

Poster advertising Amedeo Modigliani's one and only exhibition in Paris in 1917
Poster advertising Modigliani’s solo exhibition in Paris in 1917

Modigliani’s exhibition was set for December 3rd 1917. He prepared for this show, thirty drawing and paintings, including quite a few female nudes. In order to attract a crowd, he placed one of the nude paintings in the window of the gallery. This nude painting attracted a shocked crowd!

Unfortunately however, across the road from the gallery was a police station. A policeman noticed the crowds looking through the windows of the gallery, staring at Modigliani’s nudes.  The policeman was also shocked by the “filth” he saw and ordered the gallery owner, Berthe Weill, to close the exhibition immediately.

Amedeo Modigliani nude artworks
Amedeo Modigliani nude

Why were Modigliani’s nudes different from other nude paintings?

Amedeo Modigliani’s nudes were different from other paintings of nude women. Firstly, his nudes depicted pubic hair for the first time…The public found this utterly shocking!!!!!  

Secondly, his nudes portray women with unapologetic stares, seemingly comfortable with their own bodies. This, in itself, made a bold statement that many onlookers found shocking and confronting. Remember, this was 1917!

Berthe Weill tried to convince the policeman that these paintings were art, but he would not change his mind. The exhibition closed before it began! However, the policeman inadvertently gave Modigliani a massive amount of media coverage and his non-conforming and scandalous nudes got even more exposure & attention.

Can you afford a Modigliani Nude Painting?

These “shocking” nude paintings are worth millions today. On May 14, 2018, one Modigliani nude painting auctioned at Sotheby’s for a crazy $152 million dollars. Three years earlier, on November 10, 2015, another Modigliani nude sold for $170 million dollars at Christie’s auction in London!

Amedeo Modigliani nude painting
Reclining Nude – Amedeo Modigliani painting

Art Museums that own a Amedeo Modigliani nude

Unfortunately, most of the nudes are privately owned. However there are a few art museums scattered across the globe that have managed to acquire a highly sought out Modigliani nude. Below is the list of art museums:

2. Amedeo Modigliani Portraits of Jeanne Hébuterne (His Wife & Beloved Muse)

Jeanne Hébuterne was a young, beautiful woman. She came to Paris, like so many others, to become an artist. Her brother, who also painted, introduced Jeanne to the artistic community in Montparnasse . She met many artists, including the handsome Amedeo Modigliani.

Modigliani Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne
Modigliani Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne

The two fell in love and Jeanne Hébuterne quickly moved in with Modigliani. During their two and a half years together, Modigliani painted Jeanne more than twenty times. However, Modigliani he never painted Hébuterne in the nude.  Instead, he preferred to portray her beautiful face and slim figure. Either Jeanne was too shy to pose in the nude or Modigliani did not want to paint her sacred body for the public to view.

The Tragic End of Modigliani and Hébuterne

Their relationship ended tragically. Modigliani died quite suddenly of complications related to his tuberculosis. Jeanne Hébuterne was totally heartbroken. Despite being nine months pregnant, she threw herself from the fifth floor of an apartment window, killing herself and their unborn child.

Modigliani Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne
Modigliani Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne

Art Museums that own a Modigliani portrait of Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne

Below is a partial list of art museums around the world that own a Jeanne Hébuterne portrait painted by Modigliani:

3. Modigliani’s Magnificent & Lesser Known Sculptures

Amedeo Modigliani is far more famous today for his paintings. But actually, the Italian artist also created 26 magnificent and far lesser known sculptures.

For a few years, Modigliani gave up painting in order to try out sculpting. He met the highly regarded sculptor Constantin Brancusi and worked under his guidance for an entire year.

However, Modigliani’s career in sculpting did not last very long as working on stone was too strenuous for the him. With Modigliani’s deteriorating health due to both tuberculosis and heavy substance abuse, physically carving the stone was to difficult.

In the short time that he sculpted, Modigliani created a small but incredible series of sculptures. Similar to his painting style, his sculptures show elongated female heads with artistic elements of African tribal and ancient Egypt & Greek art.

Amedeo Modigliani sculpture
Amedeo Modigliani sculpture

Did Modi steal the limestone to make his sculptures?

Modigliani was totally broke during his years in Paris. During these years, Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann was rebuilding and modernizing Paris with fashionable apartment buildings on wide, tree-lined boulevards. There was plenty of limestone set aside for these building projects.

Coincidentally, Modigliani also sculpted his Heads from limestone. Did he ‘borrow’ this stone from the city of Paris?

Two Notable Art Museums with Amedeo Modigliani Artworks

Many prestigious art museums around the world now have a Modigliani painting or two in their collections. However, The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., own the largest Modigliani art collections in the world. In both museums, you can see a nude painting, a portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne and a statue, in addition to other impressive Amedeo Modigliani artworks.

For further reading, check out this wonderful book called: Artist Quarter: Modigliani, Montmartre & Montparnasse