Art Styles in 20th century Art Map


Amedeo Modigliani



(1884 - 1920)

The Poetry of Seeing





Life and Work

In spring the portrait The Amazon is executed. It is Modigliani's first paid portrait commission. A rent receipt shows that Modigliani had a studio in the Cite Falguiere on Montparnasse as of April at the latest. Through Paul Alexandra he makes the acquaintance of the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Modigliani spends the summer in Italy with his family, where his "health and cloths are restored", as he writes in a letter to Paul Alexandre. This is possibly the year in which Modigliani begins with stone sculpture, which for a time will take precedence over his painting.

1910 Modigliani exhibits in the Salon des Independants. He becomes friends with the writer Max Jacob and has an affair with the Russian poetess Anna Achmatova.

1911 Modigliani exhibits his archaic-like stone sculptures which he names "columns of tenderness" in the studio of the Portuguese artist Sousa Cardoso. Photographs of the exhibition show that the heads were illuminated and that they were presented as a "decorative ensemble". Idea for the erection of a "temple of beauty" to house the idol-like carvings. A phase of intense work on the motif of the caryatids begins.


Fruitful Ideas




Nevertheless, Modigliani was not completely ignored. One day in the spring of 1907, the painter Henri Doucet brought him along to the house in the Rue de Delta that a certain Dr Paul Alexandre had rented for young artists. Alexandre, a young doctor who had just finished his studies, was fascinated by Modigliani's paintings and began to support the Italian as well as he could. He bought his drawings and paintings and arranged for portrait commissions. This friendship would produce some of the best portraits painted by Modigliani during his time on Montmartre. The sketches and a photograph that preceded the large Portrait of Paul Alexandre against a Green Background make clear that Modigliani had his subject model for him in the traditional way. On the wall behind Dr Alexandre is the painting of (or a preliminary study for) The Jewess. This was his way of identifying Dr Alexandre as an art collector. It is an absolutely classic portrayal; the subject is presented in a distinguished and self-confident pose, a member of the upperclass and an intelligent man, who has let himself be immortalised in an imposing portrait. The lighter shading of the forehead and the emphasis of the eyes can undoubtedly be traced back to the photograph of the doctor taken at almost exactly the same time. In these early portraits, Modigliani's aim still lay in capturing the psyche of his sitter. It was an aim which he shared with Edvard Munch, whose paintings had caused a great stir in the Salon d'Automne of 1908.



Paul Alexandre, 1909


Portrait of Paul Alexandre

Portrait of Paul Alexandre against a Green Background




Portrait of Paul Alexander 


With his talent for the concentrated portrayal of the characteristic traits of his sitters, and with his feeling for elegant forms and colours, Modigliani could easily have become one of the most sought-after portraitists of Parisian high society. Paul Alexandre, who came from one of the city's upper-class families, was certainly in a position to provide Modigliani - by now living in a very simple studio on Montmartre - with access to these social circles. In 1909, Modigliani painted the impressive portrait of the Baroness Marguerite de Hasse de Villers in riding-habit, known today as The Amazon. Preparatory drawings for the painting allow one to see how Modigliani slowly encircled his subject, playing through various possibilities of expression before finally arriving at a subtle understanding of the portrayed person. Arrogance, self-confidence, pride and flirtatious-ness, as well as a great measure of reserve, are all evident in the Baroness' gaze. When completed, she harshly rejected this portrait and refused to pay for it.

The Amazon

Through his friendship with Dr Paul Alexandre, Modigliani received his first portrait commission.
When the portrait was almost finished, Modigliani painted over the Baroness' red riding-jacket in yellow.
She thereupon refused the portrait and Paul Alexandre bought it.

Jean Alexandre 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
The Clownesse Cha-U-Kao at the Moulin Rouge

Studi for The Amazon


Modigliani did not become the portraitist of the belle epoque after all. The path that he followed as an artist led him ever further away from his origins. The artist Curt Stoermer, who made Modigliani's acquaintance in 1909, has given a shrewd description of the change in Modigliani's artistic views. He visited the artist in his studio and saw the completed painting The Cellist - which according to Stoemer "already enjoyed a secret celebrity". Stoermer admired the painting's "extremely subtle technique", which, through an artistic differentiation of colours, allowed the musician to merge into his instrument and showed him in a curious state of reverie. "Later", Stoermer continued, "I saw in [Modigliani's] subsequent works that the strongly emotional style of The Cellist represented a stage in his development that he soon left behind him. He hated feelings. What does a painter have to do with moods? He blotted out content, his painting became objective, his drawings were condensed to precise contours which flowed unconsciously from his extremely nervous hands."

Study for The Cellist



Sketch for a Portrait of Brancusi,
on the back of the study for The Cellist, 1909

Modigliani's later paintings really did exhibit this leaning towards the general, one could even say towards the anonymous, achieved by both a stringent reduction of the narrative and a virtuoso stylisation of the represented subject. Modigliani developed his own ideal of beauty to which he subordinated the appearance of his portrait models. This painterly ideal is quite separate from questions of psychology and character; it is a rigorous quest for a personal style, for "harmonious and beautiful forms". If, in the first years of this quest, Modigliani still oriented himself towards the work of figures such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Munch and Cezanne, he later seems to have needed a detour in order to attain the stylistic independence which would impart such unity to his later paintings and which makes them genuine "Modiglianis". For a time, this was to lead Modigliani away from painting and to sculpture. Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian sculptor living in Paris, was producing powerful, idol-like sculptures of elegantly proportioned beauty; he was to prove instrumental in Modigliani's artistic development at this time. The unfinished portrait of Brancusi on the back of Modigliani's study for The Cellist allows the acquaintance of the two artists to be dated from the year 1909, considered to be the year in which Modigliani turned to sculpture.




Maurice Drouard 


Nude, Nude Bending to Side, Nude on Divan


Portrait of a Young Girl 


Anna Andreevna Akhmatova


Sketches of Akhmatova by Modigliani made in 1911


see also:

EXPLORATION (in Russian):

Anna Achmatova



Anna Andreevna Akhmatova

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born June 11 [June 23, New Style], 1889, Bolshoy Fontan, near Odessa, Ukraine, Russian Empire
died March 5, 1966, Domodedovo, near Moscow

pseudonym of Anna AndreyevnaGorenko Russian poet recognized at her death as the greatest woman poet in Russian literature.

Akhmatova began writing verse at the age of 11 and at 21 became a member of the Acmeist group of poets, whose leader, Nikolay Gumilyov, she married in 1910 butdivorced in 1918. The Acmeists, through their periodical Apollon (“Apollo”; 1909–17), rejected the esoteric vagueness and affectations of Symbolism and sought to replace them with “beautiful clarity,” compactness, simplicity, and perfection of form—all qualities in which Akhmatova excelled from the outset. Herfirst collections, Vecher (1912; “Evening”) and Chyotki (1914; “Rosary”), especially the latter, brought her fame. While exemplifying the best kind of personal or even confessional poetry, they achieve a universal appeal deriving from their artistic and emotional integrity. Akhmatova's principal motif is love, mainly frustrated and tragic love, expressed with an intensely feminine accent andinflection entirely her own.
Later in her life she added to her main theme some civic, patriotic, and religious motifs but without sacrifice of personal intensity or artistic conscience. Her artistry and increasing control of her medium were particularly prominent in her next collections: Belaya staya (1917; “The White Flock”), Podorozhnik (1921; “Plantain”), and Anno Domini MCMXXI (1922). This amplification of her range, however, did not prevent official Soviet critics from proclaiming her “bourgeois and aristocratic,” condemning her poetry for its narrow preoccupation with love and God, and characterizing her as half nun and half harlot. The execution in 1921 of her former husband, Gumilyov, on charges of participation in an anti-Soviet conspiracy (the Tagantsev affair) further complicated her position. In 1923 she entered a period of almost complete poetic silence and literary ostracism, and no volume of her poetry was published in the Soviet Union until 1940. In that year several of her poems were published in the literary monthly Zvezda (“The Star”), and a volume of selections from her earlier work appeared under the title Iz shesti knig (“From Six Books”). A few months later, however, it was abruptly withdrawn from sale and libraries. Nevertheless, in September 1941, following the German invasion, Akhmatova was permitted to deliver an inspiring radio address to the women of Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. Evacuated to Tashkent soon thereafter, she read her poems to hospitalized soldiers and published a number of war-inspired lyrics; a small volume of selected lyrics appeared in Tashkent in 1943. At the end of the war she returned to Leningrad, where her poems began to appear in local magazines and newspapers. She gave poetic readings, and plans were made for publication of a large edition of her works.
In August 1946, however, she was harshly denounced by the Central Committee of the Communist Party for her “eroticism, mysticism, and political indifference.” Her poetrywas castigated as “alien to the Soviet people,” and she was again described as a “harlot-nun,” this time by none other than Andrey Zhdanov, Politburo member and the director of Stalin's program of cultural restriction. She was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers; an unreleased book of her poems, already in print, was destroyed; and none of her workappeared in print for three years.
Then, in 1950, a number of her poems eulogizing Stalin and Soviet communism were printed in several issues of the illustrated weekly magazine Ogonyok (“The Little Light”) under the title Iz tsikla “Slava miru” (“From the Cycle ‘Glory to Peace' ”). This uncharacteristic capitulation to the Soviet dictator—in one of the poems Akhmatova declares: “WhereStalin is, there is Freedom, Peace, and the grandeur of the earth”—was motivated by Akhmatova's desire to propitiateStalin and win the freedom of her son, Lev Gumilyov, who had been arrested in 1949 and exiled to Siberia. The tone of these poems (those glorifying Stalin were omitted from Soviet editions of Akhmatova's works published after his death) is far different from the moving and universalized lyrical cycle, Rekviem (“Requiem”), composed between 1935 and 1940 and occasioned by Akhmatova's grief over an earlier arrest and imprisonment of her son in 1937. This masterpiece—a poetic monument to the sufferings of the Soviet peoples during Stalin's terror—was published in Moscow in 1989.
In the cultural “thaw” following Stalin's death, Akhmatova was slowly and ambivalently rehabilitated, and a slim volume of her lyrics, including some of her translations, was published in 1958. After 1958 a number of editions of her works, including some of her brilliant essays on Pushkin, were published in the Soviet Union (1961, 1965, two in 1976, 1977); none of these, however, contains the complete corpus of her literary productivity. Akhmatova's longest work, Poema bez geroya (“Poem Without a Hero”), on which she worked from 1940 to 1962, was not published in the Soviet Union until 1976. This difficult and complex work is a powerful lyric summation of Akhmatova's philosophy and her own definitive statement on the meaning of her life and poetic achievement.
Akhmatova executed a number of superb translations of the works of other poets, including Victor Hugo, Rabindranath Tagore, Giacomo Leopardi, and various Armenian and Korean poets. She also wrote sensitive personal memoirs on Symbolist writer Aleksandr Blok, the artist Amedeo Modigliani, and fellow Acmeist Osip Mandelshtam.
In 1964 she was awarded the Etna-Taormina prize, an international poetry prize awarded in Italy, and in 1965 she received an honorary doctoral degree from Oxford University. Her journeys to Sicily and England to receive these honours were her first travel outside her homeland since 1912. Akhmatova's works were widely translated, andher international stature continued to grow after her death. Atwo-volume edition of Akhmatova's collected works was published in Moscow in 1986, and The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, also in two volumes, appeared in 1990.


Sketches of Anna Akhmatova, 1911


Paris is in dark mist
And probably again Modigliani
Imperceptibly follows me.
He has a sad virtue
To bring disorder even to my dreams
And be the reason of my many misfortunes.

                                     Anna Akhmatova



Sketches of Anna Akhmatova, 1911; Anna Akhmatova, 1920


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