Tag Archives: Amedeo Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani – A Rainy Parisian Afternoon…

13 Jul

“When I know your soul, I will paint your eyes.” (Amedeo Modigliani)

1916-modigliani-female-nudeAmedeo Modigliani, Female Nude, 1916

On that blue velvety Parisian afternoon, Modigliani sat by the window, smoking a cigarette, lost in his thoughts, occasionally glancing at his empty canvas. A nude model is sitting on the chair, behind her a tattered wallpaper, grey wall protruding behind it. Clock is ticking. Rain is beating on the window. Time is passing…. Her long chestnut hair falls over her sunken cheeks. Her eyes are fixated on the wooden floor, but when she lifts her weary eyelids towards Modigliani, aquamarine blue shines through, overwhelming the room, piercing through the greyness of the afternoon. Yes, her eyes are as blue as cornflowers he had seen years before, on one train ride, in the south of France. Fields of cornflowers there were, blue and tender, and amongst them a red poppy was smiling…. yes, blue as cornflowers; Modigliani’s his thoughts lingered on like this…. Her eyelashes are dark, wet from tears, but her face radiates calm resignation. Her lonely blue eyes sense something dark. She looks at Modigliani for a moment, and the next moment she’s lost in her thoughts again. Dreamy veil covers this bohemian abode. Rain is still falling. ‘Modi’, as Modigliani was known, is still smoking the same cigarette. His grey-silvery smoke fills the room like some old tune. A few old, forgotten books lie on the windowsill. Wooden floor is covered with paint flakes at parts. Rain – blue and exhilarating – baths the city. He picks up his brush….

The nude lady is as sad as this rainy afternoon, but he can’t paint her eyes. He feels her sadness, but he can’t bring himself to capture that beautiful aquamarine blueness, because he does not yet know her soul.

***

Amedeo Modigliani, one of my favourite painters, was born on 12th July 1884 in Livorno, Italy, and this is a little daydream I had months ago while gazing at this beautiful sorrowful nude. Every single one of his nudes tells a story.

Amedeo Modigliani and Joy Division – Fragility of Existence

16 Jul

I just spent a beautiful gloomy and rainy morning immersed in Modigliani’s portraits and Joy Division’s second album Closer. I feel there’s a strange connection between lyrics of Ian Curtis and Modigliani’s portraits of wistful big-eyes Parisian beauties; they both ponder on the subject of human existence and fragility of life.

1918. Amedeo Modigliani - A Young Girl IIIAmedeo Modigliani, A Young Girl, 1918

This is a typical Modigliani’s female portrait; elongated head with a face that resembles a mask, thin and long neck, sloping shoulders, simple attire. Beautifully sculpted face with almond shaped eyes and long neck reveals Modigliani’s beginnings as a sculptor. Her cheeks and chin are rosy, one side of her lips looks like it’s trying to smile, the other can’t be bothered. One eyebrow, painted like a thin black line, is raised a bit more than the other. The whole face seems like a question mark. The background is painted in serene grey and blue-greenish shades, flickering like a surface of a lake behind a long-forgotten mansion. Her dress is coloured like pine needles. This peculiar sombre colour palette exudes fragility and sadness. There’s no rashness or raw passion you’d find in Picasso’s paintings, this is Modigliani’s world of mournful goodbyes. These gentle brushstrokes belong to a Jewish-Italian artist whose body, unfortunately, didn’t agree with his soul’s ‘lust for life’.

At this point, in 1918, he had less than two years to live. His consumption was progressing, and not even excessive drinking could cover it up. He died on 24 January 1920, in a cold hospital in Paris. It’s so sad this absolute genius, this pretty boy from Livorno, a person so full of life and capable of producing such incredible artworks had to die so suddenly and so quickly. There’s no doubt the fragility of life kept haunting him even in those seemingly joyous, extroverted moments when he behaved mischievously at the local restaurant the same as in those quiet, introspective moments when he walked home drunk and alone back to his studio where he would then paint in solitude. I’m imagining his studio in Montparnasse and the shabby chair this model sat on. Another interesting thing about this portrait; Modigliani didn’t fully paint her eyes, he just coloured the almond shape so they look like two deep, dark holes. He truly believed that eyes are the windows to the soul and he said: ‘When I know you soul, I will paint your eyes.‘ He needed to know the soul of his model before painting her eyes, though I think it more often than not meant spending the night with her. Women loved Modigliani.

It isn’t what you paint but how you paint it. Very often the subject serves only to help artist to convey a message. I often paint ballerinas, but they are always meant to represent isolation and loneliness. Antoine Watteau, for example, painted seemingly cheerful pastoral and love scenes, which were woven with sadness because he was, like Modigliani, a man of fragile health who died young. As you know, Ian Curtis took his own life on 18 May 1980, and in his lyrics he tended to explore existential subjects. I don’t think that Modigliani and Ian Curtis were similar, with this post I only wanted to say that they were two artists dealing with the same subject – fragility of existence, each in their own way.

This song was in my mind while I gazed at this portrait – Insight by Joy Division (do listen to it, it’s truly something):

I guess the dreams always end

They don’t rise up just descend

But I don’t care any more

I lost the will to want more

I’m not afraid not at all,

I watch them all as they fall…’

Paul Cezanne – Boy in a Red Waistcoat

15 Jun

Amedeo Modigliani greatly admired Paul Cezanne’s work. The story goes that Modigliani carried a reproduction of Cezanne’s painting ‘Boy in a Red Waistcoat‘ ever since he saw a retrospective of Cezanne’s work in Paris in 1907. And whenever Cezanne’s name came up in a conversation, Modigliani would take out that reproduction and ecstatically kiss it.

1888-90. Boy in a Red Waistcoat - Paul Cezanne1888-90 Boy in a Red Waistcoat – Paul Cezanne

There is indeed a connection between works of these two masters. Both Cezanne and Modigliani were faithful to tradition, and sought inspiration in history, at the same time adorning their canvases with something brutally modern and infected with abstraction. There’s no doubt that Modigliani was influenced by Cezanne, for his early paintings are very unlike the nudes which later celebrated him. Sombre and grey, with solid brush strokes they evoke the spirit of Cezanne’s series of ‘boys in a red vest’. Even though Modigliani later found his own artistic direction, Cezanne’s spirit occasionally lurks even in the most unusual paintings.

I am not a big fan of Cezanne, but I must say that his painting ‘Boy in a Red Waistcoat‘ (along with his numerous depictions of skulls), has striked me at first sight; what emotional depth, what drab mood, what a mystery? I instantly loved everything about it! Cezanne rarely bothered to date his paintings, or even name them, but it is assumed that these four paintings, ‘Boy in a Red Vest‘ series, were created between 1888 and 1890. Cezanne seemed to have a flair for painting the same scenes again and again, with a few changes, but each reflecting a different mood.

Just to be clear, I am going to be discussing my favourite out of these four paintings, which is the one above (they all bear the same name and I don’t want any misunderstanding.) The painting shows a boy dressed in a traditional Italian attire, standing in a classical pose; one hand on the hip, other hanging – a pose of resignation and passivity fitting for a drab yet powerful mood of the painting. Amidst all the bleak greys and boring browns, there’s a red vest that exudes aura of decadency and power. Blue tones occasionally peak like rays of sunshine. Sun can be blue if one sees it that way. The most exciting aspect of this painting are the brushstrokes; heavy and serious. Using only a few basic autumnal colours, Cezanne painted a magnificently intricate background, in some parts even blended with the boy’s trousers, in others cheekily standing out from the red waistcoat. Depth was achieved by adding visibly darker tones around the elbow and the shoulders. Despite the seeming roughness, a scene is perfectly balanced, sad and harmonious.

The boy was a professional model named Michelangelo di Rosa. His face reveals to us a troubled inner live, sadness, shyness, fear and doubt. His lips are shaped ‘like the wings of a distant bird‘. A figure at once melancholic and graceful, evokes the spirit of the 16th century Italian aristocratic portraits by mannerist masters. Clad in a romantic costume of Italian peasant, the boy seems so fragile and vulnerable, secretive and passive – retaining a position of eternal mystery. Cezanne’s portraits are, just like Modigliani’s, nothing but silent confirmations of life.

1888-90. The Boy in the Red Vest (also known as The Boy in the Red Waistcoat) by Paul Cézanne1888-90 The Boy in the Red Vest (also known as The Boy in the Red Waistcoat) by Paul Cézanne

1888-90. Boy in a Red Vest by Paul Cézanne1888-90 Boy in a Red Vest by Paul Cézanne

1888-90. Boy in a Red Waistcoat by Paul Cézanne1888-90 Boy in a Red Waistcoat by Paul Cézanne

Jeanne Hébuterne – Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice

6 Apr

Amedeo Modigliani’s muse and the love of his life was born on 6 April 1898 in Paris. Her delicate demeanor and strange beauty quickly attracted many starving-artists, among them the handsome and charismatic Jewish Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani who turned out to be her great love and eventually the cause of her downfall. The tale of Modigliani and Jeanne’s love is perhaps the most tragic love story in the world of art.

1916. Jeanne Hebuterne at 19 Years, photoPhoto of Jeanne at the age of 19, taken in 1917.

Jeanne Hébuterne met Amedeo around her nineteenth birthday, in April 1917, in the cultural center of Paris at the time – Montparnasse. The two soon fell deeply in love and Jeanne moved in with Modigliani, despite the objections from her parents, strict middle-class Catholics. This is the beginning of the story that ends with death, on both sides.

Jeanne and her older brother André, showed artistic talents from an early age. Despite the conservativeness of her parents, Jeanne was allowed to enroll at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs and to take classes at the Académie Colarossi. The Colarossi was on the Avenue de la Grande Chaumiere; the very center of Montparnasses’ avant-garde culture. What a coincidence that the young Jewish Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, known as ‘Modi’, also lived on that street.Although it was not far from Jeanne’s home, Montparnasse was culturally and ideologically a completely different place; in the context of Jeanne’s strict and sheltered existence in which she had been raised, it was an entirely different universe. At the Académie, Jeanne befriended other female artists such as Chana Orloff and Germaine Labaye who introduced her to Cafe life, particularly at ‘La Rotonde’ where she may have met Amedeo.

Despite her own artistic aspirations, and the fact that she was a proficient painter in her own right, Jeanne’s position as a painter rather than a painter’s muse is often overlooked, as it is the case with many female artist/models. Along with Jeanne, Elizabeth Siddal and Victorine Meurent are one of the best examples of overlooked talents.

1918. Portrait of the Artist's Wife (Jeanne Hebuterne) - Amedeo Modigliani1918. Portrait of the Artist’s Wife (Jeanne Hebuterne) – Amedeo Modigliani

Jeanne possessed a strange beauty which gained her many admirers at Montparnasse. Her eyes were bright blue and her hair was long and auburn. She was nicknamed ‘Noix de Coco‘ (‘Coconut’) due to the shape of her head and her very pale skin. All together her striking features created a ‘gothic appearance’, as it was described by one sculptor who had met her.

Along with her beauty, Jeanne possessed a sedate demeanour and was described as ‘gentle, shy, quiet and delicate. Slightly depressive.‘ With her calmness and youthfulness she was a perfect balance for Amedeo; habitual drinker, drug-user and womaniser who was fourteen years her senior. Due to these contrasts, Jeanne is often seen as a ‘pure girl’ who saved Modigliani. The situation reminds me of ‘Crime and Punishment’ where the pious and self-sacrificing Sonia saved moody Raskolikov. In addition to drawing and painting, Jeanne was known for being musical; she played the violin and she also designed and sewed her own clothes which can be seen in Modigliani’s portraits of her.

It does not surprise me at all that Jeanne was Modigliani’s muse. What other demoiselle, what other face could possibly reveal to us the meaning behind Modigliani’s art?

1917. Amedeo Modigliani 'Jeanne Hebuterne with Hat and Necklace'1917. Amedeo Modigliani – Jeanne Hebuterne with Hat and Necklace

For Modigliani, the future of art was in woman’s face. He painted Jeanne no more and no less than 26 times. Every single one of those portraits is like a love letter: very delicate, lyrical, spiritual and calm. Modigliani painted her lost in her thoughts, distant from reality, place and time, and extraordinary beautiful. Claude Roy said of these portraits ‘Modigliani is speaking here almost in a whisper; he murmurs his painting as a lover murmurs endearments in the ear of his beloved.

Amedeo moved to Nice in March 1918, hoping to sell his paintings to wealthy art experts who wintered there, and that the warm climate would have soothing effect on his fragile health, burdened with heavy drinking and substance abuse. Jeanne followed him, and on 29 November their daughter was born in Nice, out of wedlock. Little girl was named Jeanne after her mother. Although very little is known about their time spent in Nice, it is known with certainty that Modigliani was planing to marry Jeanne as soon as he got his papers.

1916. Self portrait by Jeanne Hébuterne1916. Self portrait by Jeanne Hébuterne

Sadly, he had no time to fulfill his promise. Amedeo Modigiani died on 24 January 1920 of tubercular meningitis. Jeanne was deeply affected by his death, and the next day, eight months pregnant with their second child, anguished and distraught, she committed suicide by trowing herself from the window of her parents’ apartment. With deep affection for Modigliani, Jeanne could not imagine life without him. The artist and his muse were united in death. Jeanne was only twenty-one years old.

Her epitaph read ‘Devoted Companion to the Extreme Sacrifice’.

Painters that inspire me the most…

6 Jul

Though I absolutely adore many artists, not all of them inspire me in painting. I love Fragonard for example, but I could hardly be inspired by his stiff ladies in pastoral setting, dressed in their finest rose coloured silk gowns; that’s to idealistic, art needs to be more raw, filled with melancholy or anger or despair for me to like it. Other artists, on the other hand, inspire me with almost all of their paintings. I’ll present you the nine painters that inspire me the most.

1877. Degas - The Green Dancers

Degas

I hope you already know what great passion I have for Degas; I absolutely adore his ballerinas and he’s probably my favourite Impressionist. Degas is the proof that one subject, such as ballerinas in this case, can be painted over and over again, every time interpreted in a different way. Claude Monet did something similar, painting the Rouen Cathedral more than thirty times, each time observing the change of light. Back to the subject, I love Degas’ work in general because when I look at his paintings I feel like I’m there, like I am the candle that lightens the stage. His paintings have a very intimate feel.

1873. The Railway by Manet

Manet

Manet is one of my favourite Impressionist too; his simple approach to painting, rebellious spirit and Victorine Meurent as his muse and a model have all drawn me into exploring his work. I love how he painted every day life scenes; Parisian cafes, courtesans, ladies, absinth drinkers…

1888. Starry Night Over the Rhone - van gogh

1889. The Starry Night - van gogh

Van Gogh

I’m not a die-hard Van Gogh fan, but admire his work greatly and the two paintings you see above are my favourite paintings by him, they’re called Starry Night Over the Rhone and The Starry Night. The striking thing about these paintings is how you can see the brush strokes and still, with that heavy, relief coat of colour the paintings seem dreamy and magical, it’s amazing. And the stars seem so cheerful, as if they’re playing on the indigo sky above the sleeping town.

1888. Mardi gras (Pierrot et Arlequin) - Cezanne

1898. The Bathers (Cézanne)

Cezanne

Another Post-Impressionist, Cezanne, is influential on my art because I find his work to be daring with a rather different approach. The water colours you see above are one of my favourite paintings by him, not to mention his series of skulls which show his concern with transience. I like how real this water colour painting seems, you can really see the brush strokes and he used only two basic colours; yellow and blue which shows the simplicity in which he executed his work.

1878. La Buveuse d'absinthe - Felicien Rops

Felicien Rops

What I like about Felicien Rops’ paintings is the provocative way in which he painted, at first sight, ordinary subject. This painting, for example, is called La Buveuse d’Absinthe, and though Rops is not the first who elaborated this theme, he’s certainly the first who had done it in this rough way. If you look at this painting, you’ll see it appears more like a sketch rather than a finished painting. So ahead of his time, Rops painted this back in 1878. when the painting had to be perfectly detailed and executed in order to be presentable and accepted by the conservative public.

1891. James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man

James Ensor

I first became acquainted with Ensor’s work in late December 2013. and since then I’ve studied his paintings in detail. Far more important than considered, Ensor was crucial in the development of both Expressionism and Surrealism. His paintings mostly feature the same elements; skeletons which he used as an allegory. In his paintings skeletons wear masks and are depicted the same as humans. Ensor was the innovator of the 19th century art and there for his paintings are a foundation for the twentieth century art.

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

Edvard Munch

Painting The Scream is perhaps one of my favourite paintings ever. I love the vibrant colours, strong contrasts and the helplessness and agony of that man. I find the crooked, restless and hectic atmosphere of the painting very inspirational. It almost seems as if it was done at one brush stroke, at one moment. The painting is very, very expressive.

1918. Hébuterne by Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani

I have a great passion for Modigliani’s work. Melancholic spirit captivates all his portraits and nudes. Long-faced, sad beauties,that gaze thoughtfully at their dreary and lonely surrounding. The sadness that pervades his paintings is very inspirational to me and I like how dreamy the ladies on his paintings seem. His portraits, particularly this portrait of Jeanne, seem so realistic, yet so beautiful and magical.

1890. Bal au Moulin Rouge  - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

 Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec

And finally, the famous Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec, a Post-Impressionistic painter who depicted the Parisian night life; courtesans, theatres, Montmarte and elegant ladies in provocative, elegant and rather exciting approach. His painting stand as a colourful ending of the nineteenth century.

Of course, these are not all the artists that I seek inspiration from. Others are: George de Feuer, Klimt, Soutine…

Landscapes in Chaim Soutine’s eyes

20 May

I hope the title sounds intriguing for I shall indeed focus on Soutine’s landscapes painted in late 1910s and early 1920s.

1923. Paysage by Soutine1923. Paysage, Soutine

Chaim Soutine, French painter of Belarusian Jew origin, was a very introverted person; he left only a few letters and no diaries. His life and character are enigma but with his paintings he showed far more than he ever could with letters. An Expressionistic painter, Soutine quickly developed a highly personal vision and painting technique. His rather different look on the world had left us with very sharp, crooked, twisted, strong and lavishing landscapes that depict the houses, trees, meadows and moors in a different way; the way Soutine saw them.

Soutine arrived in Paris in 1913. There he settled in Montparnasse, an artists community, and befriended Amedeo Modigliani, also a Jewish painter, who painted several portraits of him. Amedeo, ten years his senior, embraced Soutine with affection and became both his friend and a mentor. While Modigliani was particularly known for his portraits and nudes, Soutine found inspiration in classic paintings in European tradition, his early works being created under the influence of Rembrandt, Chardin and Courbet. He was particularly influenced by Rembrandt, as he painted several carcasses. However, he soon developed an individual painting style of his own, putting focus on shape, colour and texture over representation – something that served as a bridge between traditional art and Abstract Expressionism.

1923. Le Village by Soutine1923. Le Village, Soutine

While in Paris, Soutine lived completely penniless. In addition to that, he was obsessed with morbid memories of suffering and poverty of his childhood. He believed himself to be hounded by poverty and tried to hang himself; death seemed to be the only solution. These inner sufferings, both psychical and mental, caused him great nervousness and slowly deteriorated his health. Stomach ulcer, which would ultimately lead to his death, did not really come unexpected.

It’s a cliche to say Soutine was a tortured genius, but I feel that’s something all artist share. Still, he stays an enigmatic character and his paintings, expression of the pain and sadness he lived with, are here for us all, perhaps to understand what was going on in Soutine’s mind. He did leave us a diary; his paintings.

1921. Le Gros Arbre bleu by Soutine1921. Le Gros Arbre bleu, Soutine

The thing that instantly caught my attention concerning these paintings was this rather strange perspective and Soutine’s way of applying the paint; in thick and solid layer which makes the painting appear strong, vivid, clear and expressive. I just adore the way he played with perspective for it looks like something that came right from his head, isn’t that exciting?

Look at the tree in the painting above; it looks crooked, wicked and strange, as if the wind that blows its branches is bringing some bad news. The sky is gloomy; painted with sharp brush-strokes in solid layer. Shades of blue and green dominate the sky above this lonely yet mysterious landscape. Even the hills are painted with sharp brush strokes, in green and indigo colour with a hint of red, as if they were burning. Soutine’s landscapes are striking in their colour palette, strange perspectives and remarkable contrasts. If you look a the painting Paysage, the first one, you’ll notice the contrast between vivid blue and vivid green which, in addition to heavy layered coloures, gives the painting hectic and strange atmosphere, as if it was place where no peace, comfort or acceptance can be found.

1920. Les Maisons by Soutine1920. Les Maisons, Soutine

Houses on the painting Les Maisons appear crooked, tall, dark and frightening, like they are giants watching over you. To me, these houses, with their bumpy figures, dark colours and heavy coloured surrounding, resemble the empty souls; those windows look like eyes gazing hopelessly at the viewer, and mouths screaming for help; for salvation from their agony.

Soutin felt like a stranger in Paris where foreigners were overlooked. He often spent his days finding good landscapes to paint and he’d be very disturbed if somebody would observe him while painting. Sadly, his fears of poverty, bad memories and imperishable feeling of loneliness never ended. In fact, he ended his life as a poverty stricken escapee from Nazi regime, wondering through the forests, sleeping outdoors, in great pain, suffering from stomach ulcer and bleeding heavily. In 1943. he left his safe hiding place for Paris where he hoped he’d get medical help. Instead, he died for the surgery failed to save his life.

Consumption – A Romantic Disease

17 May

‘I should like to die from consumption.’ said Lord Byron, helping to popularize tuberculosis as an artist’s disease.

In the nineteenth century consumption was such a popular disease that it was dubbed The White Plague, mal de vivir and mal du siecle. It gained popularity in Romantic era, due to Lord Byron, and was seen as a sign of sensitivity, spiritual purity and temporal wealth. Young ladies begun purposefully paling their skin in order to achieve the consumptive appearance and they also dropped belladonna into their eyes for it dilated their pupils, giving the eyes luminous glow.

The slow progress of the disease meant that the sufferer could have time to arrange his affairs. In those times, one could only hope to die from consumption. Amedeo Modigliani, whom I have written about in my last post, also died from consumption in 1920., though in his times it was not considered so romantic anymore as it took many and many lives in Paris. Chopin had died from consumption, and George Sand doted her lover, calling him her ‘poor melancholy angel’. She also wrote in a letter to her friend ‘Chopin coughs with infinite grace’.

Quite strange, and unbelievable, that once it was popular to die from such a disease. Lord Byron’s wish was not fulfilled for he died from fever.