Art in NYC: Modigliani Unmasked Exhibition at the Jewish Museum

Art in NYC: Modigliani Unmasked Exhibition at the Jewish Museum

Early works by Amedeo Modigliani on view from September 15, 2017 – February 4, 2018

Jewish Museum Modigliani nudes portraits sculptures
Jeanne Hébuterne with Yellow Sweater, 1918-19 / Image provided by Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource NY

The drawings, paintings, and sculptures by Amedeo Modigliani are easily recognized for their characteristic elongated features and warm color palette. The Jewish Museum presents the works from Dr. Paul Alexandre collection who was the artist’s close friend and first patron. The show covers Modigliani’s first years in Paris from 1906 when he arrived on the scene till primarily 1912. While many of the works look very familiar, others are exhibited in New York for the first time refreshing the visitors understanding of the artist oeuvre and getting deeper into the roots of his creative style.

Jewish Museum Modigliani nudes portraits sculptures
Kneeling Caryatid, 1911-12, Paul Alexandre Family, courtesy of Richard Nathanson, London / Image provided by Richard Nathanson, photo: Prudence Cuming Ass.

Amedeo Modigliani was born in a Sephardic Jewish family in Livorno, Italy in 1884. His father’s side came from Italian businessmen clan, while his mother’s side origins were from Marseille, France bringing a cultivated, intellectual ancestry which traced its lineage to Spinoza. The family’s fortunes collapsed at the time of Modigliani’s birth, but the family was able to maintain a flare of decent means because of his mother’s enthusiasm and resourcefulness. Modigliani had experienced multiple health crises in his childhood and youth leading eventually to tuberculosis that claimed his life at an early age of 35.

When Modigliani arrived in Paris at the turn of the twentieth century, it was an artistic hub and the center of creative expression counting in its ranks founders of every modernist artistic movement. The unprecedented vibrancy of creative scene was calling for finding new styles away from the classical determinism towards the freedom of abstract art. Modigliani, however, embraced figurative style likely because he had already experimented with Macchiaioli, en plain air painting technique which pre-dates impressionism, back in Florence, Italy when he was attending art school there. He didn’t fall in love with it and continued to work in his studio.

Jewish Museum Modigliani nudes portraits sculptures
Seated Female Nude, possibly Anna Akhmatova, 1911; Paul Alexandre Family, courtesy of Richard Nathanson, London / photo: Prudence Cuming Ass.

In Paris he was getting his inspiration from African, Egyptian and Southeast Asian art that he intensively studied at the museums rich in exotic artifacts. The current show traces the influence of these ancient cultures on Modigliani’s works and emphasizes the successful mix of forms and poses found in his portraits.

A fascination with the nonwestern representation of the faces and figures taken by the artist at the time when he met Russian poet Anna Akhmatova had resulted in numerous sketches of her as a goddess. The drawings on view have accentuated angular forms reminding of the paintings from the Ancient Egypt. Another gallery in the show is dedicated to the exploration of the caryatids and other devotional figures from the ancient world. Yet in another gallery, there is a collection of limestone sculpture heads reminiscent of the African masks. The build-up of influences and elements leads to the familiar oil paintings of nudes and portraits.

Modigliani’s short life was almost too full of all sorts of excesses. Too many lovers, too much alcohol and drugs, too many rushed ideas, too noisy parties. The latest biography by Meryle Secrest “Modigliani: A Life” tells a sympathetic story of this talented artist “putting his art at the center” in the words of the New Yorker review of the book.

One peculiar aspect of Modigliani’s oeuvre is that it attracts the imitators making Modigliani “the most faked artist in the world” according to Secrest. The seemingly easy to replicate compositions commanding sky-high prices combined with a poorly documented portfolio of works have led to the notorious number of forgeries. The fakes even found its way into acclaimed museum collections. An exhibition in Genoa, Italy in the summer of 2017 had to close early according to Artnet  because of the high number of fakes on view.

Modigliani Unmasked will surely get one think about many of the artist’s intentions and make his art even more enjoyable for the viewers!


Jewish Museum Modigliani nudes portraits sculptures
Amedeo Modigliani, Head of a Woman, 1910/1911, limestone, Chester Dale Collection

Dates: September 15, 2017 – February 4, 2018

Venue: Jewish Museum, 1109 5th Avenue, NY          


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