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The Portraitist


Modigliani is a portraitist more than anything else. He captured his friends in numerous sketches, frequently also in order to pay the bill for a meal. In their fluid linearity, these works follow Picasso’s and Ingres’s classicist drawing style. He idealized his lover Beatrice Hastings, whereas he depicted his fellow artists in a more personal manner. Ironic inscriptions and subdued ocher tones are concessions to Cubism. Now and then he rendered his sitters in a caricature-like fashion or gave them the vacant stare borrowed from African or East Asian artifacts. Modigliani paid a lot of attention to the hands, a symbol of creativity. The sitters are moved up closely to the viewer. Sparingly furnished interiors and yellow colors or other warm tones allude to the artist’s affiliation with the bohemian lifestyle away from home.    

In 1914, Paul Guillaume, one of the most important art dealers of the Parisian avant-garde, concluded a contract with Modigliani. Following his recommendations, Modigliani finally turned away from sculpture and returned to easel painting. He lived in Montmartre with his friend, the English writer Beatrice Hastings, and used a studio rented by Paul Guillaume in the vicinity of her house. Time and again, Modigliani also worked together with his fellow artists Diego Rivera, Frank Burty Haviland, and Brancusi in Montparnasse; in the meantime, Picasso, too, had left Montmartre for Montparnasse.

Amedeo Modigliani | Léopold Zborowski, 1916

© Fonds de dotation Jonas Netter

Modigliani is a portraitist more than anything else

Amedeo Modigliani | Woman with Blue Eyes, ca. 1918

© Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris. Bequest of Dr. Maurice Girardin

Amedeo Modigliani | Diego Rivera, 1914

© Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf

Amedeo Modigliani | Diego Rivera, 1914

© Private Collection

Amedeo Modigliani | Jeanne Hébuterne, 1918

© Fonds de dotation Jonas Netter

Amedeo Modigliani | Young Man with Cap, 1918

© Detroit Institute of Arts / Bridgeman Images

Amedeo Modigliani | Red-Haired Girl, 1918

Private Collection

Amedeo Modigliani | Elvira with White Collar, 1917/18

© Fonds de dotation Jonas Netter

In Search of Timeless Beauty

Both in the portraits of his friends and in those of anonymous ladies, the style of Modigliani’s sculptural oeuvre lived on. He partly painted directly over the drawings made in preparation for his sculptures. In 1915 he did the first of altogether two self-portraits he would paint during his short life. In their three-dimensional quality, these busts closely resemble his sculptures, as they are constructed of plain, harmonious curves, to which he added round or oval mask-like faces that always appear extremely graceful, feminine, and elegant. Long, cylindrical necks borrowed from the reliquary guardian figures of the Fang lend his sitters an abstract touch.

Amedeo Modigliani | Self-Portrait as Pierrot, 1915

© Statens Museum for Kunst, Kopenhagen

Pablo Picasso | Head of a Woman, 1908

© Succession Picasso / GDKE_Landesmuseum Mainz (Ursula Rudischer) / Bildrecht, Vienna 2021

Similar to Picasso’s head studies for the Demoiselles d’Avignon, many of Modigliani’s portraits show blind, almond-shaped eyes deprived of their pupils, a motif going back to Cézanne. Studying the formal aspects of non-European cult objects, both artists were particularly receptive to this very detail. Thanks to this specific aesthetic feature, the sitter assumes a quality of timeless validity. As to the model character of non-European artifacts, Picasso once confessed that “painting is not an aesthetic undertaking,” but “a form of magic, destined to mediate between an alien, hostile outer world and us.”


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Getting the exhibition ready | Video © The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna
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