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Amadeo Modigliani

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Modigliani was born on 12th July 1884 in Leghorn (Livorno, Italy), and grew up in a Jewish ghetto, where he suffered serious illnesses as a boy. He studied art in Florence and in 1906 moved to Paris, where he became acquainted with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and other avant-garde artists living there. In Paris, Modigliani led a reckless, dissipated life that gradually affected on his health. His talents as an artist, however, were never doubted by fellow artists. He was influenced by Fauvism.  

He became a friend of the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who kindled his interest in sculpture, in which he would continue his very personal idiom, distinguished by strong linear rhythms, simple elongated forms, and verticality. Head (1912; Guggenheim Museum, New York City) and Caryatid (1914; Museum of Modern Art, New York City) exemplify his sculptural work, which consists mainly of heads and, less often, of full figures. Modigliani first produced sculpture inspired by African carvings, but after 1915 he devoted himself entirely to painting, producing some of his best work. 

His interest in African masks and sculpture remains evident, especially in the treatment of the sitters' faces: flat and mask like, with almond eyes, twisted noses, pursed mouths, and elongated necks, almost classical in effect.  Despite their extreme economy of composition and neutral backgrounds, the portraits convey a sharp sense of the sitter's personality. Although of the utmost simplicity in contour, his paintings reveal considerable psychological insight and a curious sense of pathos. He achieved, in his best work, a blend of the dynamism of African sculpture and the pure grace of the early Renaissance style of Botticelli. 

France 1980. Amadeo Modigliani. Expressionism. Woman with Blue Eyes. Monaco 1970. Amadeo Modigliani. Expressionism. Portrait of Dédie. France 1987. Amadeo Modigliani. Expressionism. Portrait of Blaise Cendrars. Italy 1984. Amadeo Modigliani. Expressionism. Portrait of Paul Guillaume.

Fine examples of Modigliani's figure paintings are a number of his Reclining Nude, of which he has made a large number.  They are all elegant, arresting arrangements of curved lines and planes as well as a striking idealization of feminine sexuality.  Today his graceful portraits and lush nudes at once evoke his name, but during his brief career few apart from his fellow artists were aware of his gifts. 

Amadeo Modigliani. Expressionism. Reclining Nude. 1917-1918. Amadeo Modigliani. Expressionism. Reclining Nude from the Back. 1917.

He had some unsuccessful relationships with women, but in 1917 he met the 19 year old Jeanne Hébuterne, whom he portrayed several times. In 1919, one year before his death, he had an exhibition in London, which became a great success. 

Modigliani and Jeanne became parents of two children.  

When Jeanne was pregnant with their 3rd child, Modigliani died on 24th January 1920 at the age of 35 from tuberculosis and excesses of drink and drugs, driven desperate by his poverty and bitterly ashamed of it. 

  • Jeanne Hébuterne, with her left arm behind her head, painted 1919.

  • Jeanne Hébuterne, seated, painted 1918. 

Amadeo Modigliani. Expressionism. Jeanne Hébuterne. 1919 Amadeo Modigliani. Expressionism. Jeanne Hébuterne. 1918.

Two days after his funeral Jeanne threw herself down from a 5th floor window and died together with her unborn child.  "You are not alive unless you know you are living." said a text on the wall of Modigliani's studio. 

Some 35-40 Modigliani-stamps have been issued world wide, unfortunately mostly by the less "serious" postal administrations.  All stamps issued by France, Monaco, and Italy are shown on this page.  

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