Amedeo Modigliani

1884 1920
(Italie) 1884 /   (France) 1920

Amedeo Modigliani was born on 12 July 1884 in Livorno, Italy. He was the fourth and youngest child in a family of Sephardic Jews. In 1884, the family business went bankrupted (they dealt with wood and cool from mines in Sardinia). In 1886, his mother Eugénie Garsin, who was originally from France, gave private classes. Together with her sister Laura, they turned the house into a school. Emmanuele, the eldest child, became a lawyer and a socialist Member of Parliament. Marguerita, the only daughter among the four children, remained single and became the adoptive mother of Jeanne, Amedeo and Jeanne Hébuterne’s daughter. As for Umberto, he graduated from the school Les Mines and became an engineer.

In 1898, Modigliani enrolled in the School of Fine Arts in Livorno. He took Guglielmo Micheli’s classes. In September 1900, he contracted pleurisy, which developed into tuberculosis. He spent the summer of 1902 in Rome where he copied paintings in museums. In Florence, he enrolled in the free school of nude, took Giovanni Fattori’s classes and met Manuel Ortiz de Zarate, an artist from Chile who talked to him about Paris. From 1903 to 1906, he kept studying at the free school of nude in the School of Fine Arts in Venice.

Thanks to some money that his mother gave him, Modigliani arrived in Paris in January 1906. He first lived in a hotel for a few days, and later settled Rue Caulaincourt in Montmartre near the Bateau-Lavoir. There, he met Picasso, Derain, Apollinaire, Diego Rivera, Max Jacob and Jacques Lipchitz. He enrolled in the Colarossi Academy. That same year, he exhibited three paintings at Laura Wylda’s gallery in Rue des Saints-Pères. In 1907, he moved apartments several times and met Maurice Utrillo and André Utter. He started to spend time in cabarets in Montmartre, and began drinking and smoking hashish. In November, he met Dr. Paul Alexandre, who bought him paintings and supported him until 1914.

In 1908, Modigliani exhibited six paintings at the Salon des Indépendants, including La Juive (the Jewess), which was bought by Paul Alexandre. In Montmartre, he sculpted heads out of crossties he found in the Métro at the Barbès-Rochechouart station. Following the general move, in September 1909, he left Montmartre for Montparnasse and settled at the Cité Falguière, number 14. He took an interest in sculpture and molded rock with Constantin Brancusi. At that time, he met Zadkine, Kisling and Foujita. In 1913, he resumed painting.

In 1914, Modigliani and Ortiz de Zarate wanted to join the army. However, they could not enlist because of health reasons. Modigliani met Béatrice Hastings, an English journalist and poetess. In 1915, Max Jacob introduced him to the art dealer and collector Paul Guillaume. Modigliani produced about one painting every six days and painted numerous portraits. He spent a lot of time with Béatrice Hastings at the café La Rotonde and at Marie Vassilieff’s canteen. He met Soutine and saw in him a brilliant painter. The two artists became very close friends.

During the summer 1916, Léopold Zborowski became his dealer. In 1917, Modigliani worked at Zborowski’s at 3 Rue Joseph-Bara. He gave him his production in exchange for fifteen to twenty Francs per day.That winter, he produced his first series of nudes. In March 1917, he met Jeanne Hébuterne who was a student at the Colarossi Academy. She was nineteen years old. She became his life partner and moved in with him in the small studio at 8 Rue de la Grande-Chaumière that Zborowski found them. On 3 December 1917, Zborowski organized Modigliani’s first solo exhibition at Berthe Weill’s gallery. Blaise Cendrars wrote a poem for the catalogue’s preface.

Modigliani’s health got worse and the couple settled in Cagnes-sur- Mer, where Soutine, Foujita, Léopold Survage, Anders Osterlind, Blaise Cendrars and Paul Guillaume were also staying. Jeanne gave birth to their daughter Jeanne on 29 November 1918.

In December 1918, Paul Guillaume organized an exhibition showing paintings by Modigliani, Picasso and Matisse. Modigliani produced numerous paintings and finally saw them be a resounding success. In 1919, his health got worst but he refused to be treated. He drank a lot and wandered from café to café. In the night of 24 January 1920, he died of tuberculous meningitis. He was thirty-five years old.

Jeanne, who was nine months pregnant, returned to live at her parents. On the morning of 24 January 1920, desperate, she jumped out of the window from the fifth floor. She was twenty-one years old.