Amedeo Modigliani was certainly an exceptional talent. Known as “Modi” or “Dedo”, he was born on July 1884 in Livorno from a Sephardi Jewish family who was in dramatic economical conditions. As a proof of such a dramatic situation there is the anecdote of the birth of the man. In that occasion, while his mother was laying on the bed, in the room there were the last valuable goods of the family. The reason why they kept them there is to attribute to the arrive of the judicial officer, trying to avoid the appropriation of their last resources: according to the law, is was impossible to set any seal onto objects which were before the bed of a woman in labour
Therefore, even if with some difficulties, Modigliani’s life carried on and was enriched since the very beginning, by talent and art and a passion for drawing. He managed to develop a unique style, impossible to imitate and immediately recognisable. The women with their stretched face (influenced by the tribal African and Oceanic art), the dull eyes with their empty pupils and the richness of those intense colours where the emblem of Modigliani’s art, his own signature.
In Paris he found his maximum inspiration for his art. He moved to the district of Montmartre, living in a commune of artists, nourishing his talent through the encounter of groups of avant-garde and artists such as Picasso (with who he was always in disagreement), Maurice Utrillo, Moise Kisling anf the Alexander brothers. In the popular imagination Modigliani personified perfectly that idea of the damned artist, misunderstood by the critics and his time, a reckless man suffering from an excessive life. He was described as a shy, passionate man, able of great gesture of kindness, but at the same time impetuous, proven by the use of drugs and alcohol and his difficult economical conditions. A common situation for many artists present in Paris in those years.
Certainly his life was not very easy: he suffered from typhus fever at the age of 14, which led to a serious form of tuberculosis. The disease affected the artist’s life in many ways, for example by not allowing him to cultivate the art of sculpting due to the damaging powders produced through it. He therefore focused on painting: portrait and nudes. Initially his production did not received the hoped success, and one of his very first exhibitions was shut by the Parisian Police a few hours after its start.
The representation of the many naked bodies, elegantly placed in the intimate atmospheres of his paintings was seen as obscene and immoral by the public decency. His artworks found great success only post mortem, reaching high prices and becoming some of the most wanted pieces by the prestigious art galleries of all the world.
Modigliani was rapid in his brush strokes, to the point that 2 or 3 sessions were enough to realise his paintings. Many of the ones who had the chance to be depicted by the artist confessed to be read deeply by the gaze of the genial artist. His art finds the core of his uniqueness in the importance that Modigliani was attributing to the concept of deep knowledge of the human soul.
That importance which could not be collected immediately but that instead is concealed behind the gaze of the characters of his paintings. Certainly him, like many other artists, had his own personal language: he stylised his figures, stretched them, filtered them through the lens of his personal sensitivity. However the final result was something unexpected, i.e. those dull eyes had no pupils.
It is common to hear that the eyes are the window to the soul; but Modigliani, unlike his colleagues, when he was to paint someone, he remained truth to his artistic choice. This is the reason why his eyes are lacking of the pupils: he could not represent the soul of those men and women that he did not know. However like anything else, this rule had its own exception: in the painting of Jeanne Hébuterne the pupils are present.
The last love of Modigliani, Jeanne Hébuterne, 14 years younger than him, she was artist and painter herself and posed as a model for numerous paintings of the man. But this desperate and intense love was kept hidden by the public for around 80 years as it was considered inappropriate and embarrassing by their respective families. The young Jeanne, after a bit of time from the beginning of the improper relationship was kicked out and, in some way, rejected by her family.
Of his beloved Jeanne, Modigliani managed to represent her eyes. After having lived that existence of battles and difficulties due to his health conditions (for which Jeanne never gave up on helping out), Modigliani understood to have finally known the woman that in that very moment he was representing in his studio, hence her soul was visible to him.
The last days of the artists were marked by the deterioration of the tuberculosis who killed him eventually at the age of 35. One day, his neighbours entered his apartment and discovered Modigliani agonising by his beloved Jeanne’s side, at that time 9 month pregnant of the second child. The remains of Modigliani were taken to the Parisian cemetery of Père Lachaise. A huge funeral was celebrated where the artistic communes of Montmartre and Montparnasse partook too. A funeral which was possible thanks to the collection of money of his friends and the artists he had spent much of his time.
Soon even the woman, destroyed by the loss of her man, followed him in that tragic destiny. The act was desperate and violent: in the middle of the night she jump down the window from her house at their 5th floor, bringing with her also the child that she had inside of her. The parents of her, in sign of disapproval of their daughter’s conduct, asked to bury her in the farther cemetery of Bagneux and only a few months later the two lovers were rejoined together in Pére Lachaise. In their headstones it’s readable:
(in his) “Hit by death in the moment of the glory”
(in hers) ” Devoted companion until the extreme sacrifice”
The little Jeanne, only daughter and heir of Modigliani remained in Paris with Modigliani’s older sister. She dedicated her entire life to the reconstruction of the fragmentary career of her father.