Nude, 1917 © Private Collection, Modigliani
Art London

How To Create a Retrospective: Modigliani @ Tate Modern

After visiting the disgraceful Modigliani’s exhibition in Genoa in 2017 (which has been closed with heavy accusations of forgery) we were eager to check out the introspection about the same artist organized by Tate Modern for its Fall 2018 exhibition season. They delivered a fantastic show.

The museum, sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, organized the most extensive exhibition ever for this artist in the UK, with the astonishing number of 100 works put on display. Holding a show about Modigliani is one of the most challenging jobs an art curator can start nowadays. The last work sold at an auction reached the enormous sum of 170 million $ in 2015, making the Italian artist one of the most sought-after painters in the world.

Putting together this impressive collection has been a massive effort led by three organizers: Nancy Ireson, Curator of International Art at Tate Modern (previous at the Art Institute of Chicago and National Gallery), Simonetta Fraquelli, independent curator member of the Modigliani Project, and Emma Lewis, assistant curator for Tate Modern.

The Exhibition

The exhibition starts with the arrival of Amedeo in Paris. The young Livornese artist arrives in the French Capital City in 1906 at the age of 22. It’s a striking contrast with the relaxed and bucolic environment of the Tuscanian middle class where he was born and raised. Paris was the center of the world at that time, with endless opportunities for young artists. Here, Modigliani quickly became acquainted with several fellow artists, Picasso, Gris, Apollinaire, just to name a few. In the first rooms, we see how the painters he met in real life and the exhibitions he visited at that time influenced his early works.

Picasso, 1915 © Wikimedia Commons, Modigliani
Picasso, 1915 © Wikimedia Commons
The Beggar of Livorno, 1909 © Wikimedia Commons, Modigliani
The Beggar of Livorno, 1909 © Wikimedia Commons

A painting of Picasso shows his influence from Cubism, “Nude Study” from 1908  recalls the advertisement posters from Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Cezanne’s influence is omnipresent in every work, as exemplified in his “The beggar of Livorno” made during a short trip to his hometown.

Nude study, 1908 © Wikimedia Commons, Modigliani
Nude study, 1908 © Wikimedia Commons

But Amedeo Modigliani can’t keep its art confined to a single movement. He grew up admiring the works from Italian Renaissance, Botticelli, Parmigianino, the majestic statues in Rome. He spends countless days admiring Roman, Greek, and Egyptian statues at Louvre. All these bring Amedeo, now acquainted with his new environment (but with a feeling of extraneity that will surround him throughout all his life), to develop his personal style. His portraits become statuary, necks elongate as to project the subject on a new existence plan, while their eyes lose humanity.

Beatrice Hastings, 1915 © Private Collection, Modigliani
Beatrice Hastings, 1915 © Private Collection
Portrait of Paul Guillaume, Novo Pilota, 1915 © Musée de l’Orangerie, Modigliani
Portrait of Paul Guillaume, Novo Pilota, 1915 © Musée de l’Orangerie

A small room introduces us to one of his main subjects: the caryatid. The figure of a woman, carrying the weight of the structure, is a way for the artist to express his feelings toward the feminine. From her mother, the first woman of his life, an active character who has been able to resurrect the family from bankruptcy, to his several fiancées, like Anna Akhmatova and Beatrice Hastings, women have always been at the center of Modigliani’s production. Strong women, able to stand against his impetuous character and his self-destruction tendencies without losing their personalities.

Caryatid, 1913 © Wikimedia Commons, Modigliani
Caryatid, 1913 © Wikimedia Commons
Head, 1911 © President and Fellows of Harvard College, Modigliani
Head, 1911 © President and Fellows of Harvard College

This is the context the exhibition creates around the spectator before entering in the spectacular sculpture room. Here we can find a dozen of Modigliani’s heads (over the 27 statues he created during his career and not destroyed). After a quick return to his hometown, Livorno, Amedeo came back to Paris and worked in Constantine Brancusi’s studio.

This was the time frame when Modigliani developed most of his sculptures. His research toward the transformation of the human body according to its psyche, joined with his interests in ancient art, quickly pointed him in the direction of sculpture. His heads lose most of their humankind features to grow an immanent, transcendent nature. Beyond humanity, in a transformation that makes the heads of women become the heads of goddesses. Unfortunately, Modigliani’s career as a sculptor was destined to an abrupt ending. After few years of practice, the limestone powder generated by his working aggravated his already precarious health conditions. Amedeo suffered from tuberculosis (one of the primary causes of deaths in Paris at the beginning of the XX century), and he was forced to stop using the chisel to get back to the brush.

Woman’s Head (with chignon), 1911-12 © Merzbacher Kunststiftung, Modigliani
Woman’s Head (with chignon), 1911-12 © Merzbacher Kunststiftung

In the final part of the exhibition, we can find one of the favorite subjects of Modigliani’s production: female nudes. One next to each other, several large-sized portraits of women look at the viewer, in a procession of winks and sensual poses. One next to each other, we have some of the most famous artworks from this author, from the “Antwerp nude”  to many precious paintings belonging to private collections.

Nude, 1917 © Private Collection, Modigliani
Nude, 1917 © Private Collection
L’Algerienne, 1916 © Wikimedia Commons, Modigliani
L’Algerienne, 1916 © Wikimedia Commons

Several interesting pieces are on display in this room. L’Algérienne is straight at the entrance, on the left. Two portraits of the same woman, an Algerian model, stand one next to the other. The fascination of Modigliani for her is evident. The first picture shows a strong, audacious girl who looks directly in the eyes of the public. The second artwork represents the same woman, naked, lying on a bed. She is still looking straight at us, but her expression is radically different. A woman in full control of herself, aware of her sensuality and in charge of the situation.

Nude on sofa (Almaisa), 1916 © Wikimedia Commons, Modigliani
Nude on sofa (Almaisa), 1916 © Wikimedia Commons

There is another single work of art that stroke our attention. Reclining nude, from 1919, represents a young girl stretched on a bed. The woman is sleeping, with one arm over her hairs and the other one next to her neck. There is an aura of candor, of divinity around her head. Her profile is a direct reference to the Renaissance paintings the young Modigliani studied and copied several times while living in Livorno. The body of the figure, instead, explodes with sensuality. The breast is full, the hip is round, with the pubic hair on display. What we have here is a valid archetype of Amedeo’s nude production: a delightful union of classic and modern, connecting humanity and divinity to represent the ambivalence of the human nature.

Reclining Nude, 1919 © MoMA, Modigliani
Reclining Nude, 1919 © MoMA

The final part of the room is a bit underwhelming. Modigliani is forced to move to Southern France because of his poor health conditions. The colors become pastels, while he experiments with landscapes (in our opinion, not a successful one). Children figures become a frequent subject of his artworks. It’s a new life for the artist. Paris, with its endless dangers and opportunities, is a far-away memory, while the present is serene and relaxed. Together with his lover and mother of his child, Jeanne Hébuterne, Amedeo has finally found his oasis of peace.

The Little Peasant, 1918, © Tate, Modigliani
The Little Peasant, 1918, © Tate
Cagnes Landscape, 1919 © Private Collection, Modigliani
Cagnes Landscape, 1919 © Private Collection

The last room of the exhibition focuses on Modigliani’s inner world. We leave his numerous acquaintances, and we explore how he represents his true friends, the strict circle of people who Amedeo loved throughout his life. Léopold Zborowski, together with his wife Anna Sierzpowski, has been his last art dealer. The portrait of the young couple shows the respect and the complete trust the artist had in his manager. On a wall, his real love. Jeanne Hébuterne is Modigliani’s other half, the woman who makes him able to breathe and live.

The passion of the man toward this woman is evident in every single brushstroke of her portraits (three, one next to each other). Jeanne is not any longer human. Her neck is elongated, her face transcends human features to assume angel-like characteristics. After countless encounters, affairs, relationships, Modigliani can finally reach his inner balance. The last artwork is a self-portrait of himself, confident and relaxed.

Jeanne Hébuterne, 1919 © MoMA, Modigliani
Jeanne Hébuterne, 1919 © MoMA
Self Portrait, 1919 © Wikimedia Commons, Modigliani
Self Portrait, 1919 © Wikimedia Commons

This is a glorious exhibition. Tate Modern put together an incredible work after thousands of hours spent researching and dealing with private collections. We recommend coming here at least once before its closing date (set on the 2nd of  April 2018) to admire one of the best shows ever displayed in this museum, from one of the most incredible artists of the last century.

useful info

Where and When:

23 November 2017 – 2 April 2018

@Tate Modern

Opening times:

Sunday to Thursday 10.00–18.00

Friday to Saturday 10.00–22.00

Price:

Adult £19.70 (£17.70 without donation)

Senior £18.70 (£16.70 without donation)

Concession £17.90 (£15.90 without donation)

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