Modigliani Madness

I don’t make any money off this blog, and I plan to keep it that way. But if, hypothetically, I did make money off this blog I would be obliged to share a portion of the revenue with the estate of Amadeo Modigiani. Like all bloggers, I check my traffic and stats regularly, and I’m still amazed at how frequently “Modigliani” appears as a search engine term. Every single day . . . Modigliani, Modigliani, Modigliani. Hundreds of people have found Museworthy thanks to him. And he’s the reason that my old post on Modigliani’s muse Jeanne Hebuterne is the top Museworthy post, and still going strong. Sometimes that year-old post gets the highest traffic in a daily breakdown, surpassing even the newest one!

So what’s with all the Modigliani madness? Well, he’s enormously popular that’s for sure. But do we know why? Is it a “cult-following” phenomenon, fueled by the romanticism and mythologizing of another tormented, misunderstood, “bohemian”? That probably has a lot to do with it, as Modigliani fits that archetype to perfection. I can’t say anything definitively. I can only offer my amateur, semi-informed analysis. Modigliani’s work is not especially profound or complex. His subject matter is not weighty or thought-provoking. He had a seemingly limited range as an artist, and wouldn’t be described as versatile or extremely significant as a 20th century figure. Modigliani may have been a contemporary of Picasso, but Picasso he was not. No art historian will dispute that.

But stylistically, Modigliani’s art is very appealing. Strongly influenced by primitive sculpture and African tribal masks, he used those shapes and features – exotic and elongated- and adapted them into a sleek, distinct modern look. Therein lies his genius. The result was something highly seductive: simplified forms, graceful lines, sensuous female subjects. People are attracted to it. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Stroll over to the Modigliani section of the Met and you can see it for yourself, as there is always a crowd congregated around his paintings, any day of the week.

I remember feeling terribly sad after I wrote the Jeanne Hébuterne post. The story is so tragic and heart-wrenching. She was far too young and vulnerable to be involved with a difficult man like Modigliani, and she paid with her life. Fortunately not every woman who crossed paths with Modigliani had her life devastated. Some of his other models were stronger, more independent women than Jeanne.

Lunia Czechovska met Modigliani through his art dealer and they became lifelong friends. She apparently had a somewhat stabilizing effect on him but tolerated his ways only up to a point. Lunia claimed that although their relationship was close, it never became sexual. Considered Modigliani’s most important model, Lunia sat for him many, many times and is the subject of both nudes and portraits. This is Lunia from 1919:

modigliani-lunia

South African-born Beatrice Hastings (a pen name) was a writer, poet, and critic whose work was published regularly in the British literary journal “The New Age”. While living in Paris, Beatrice moved in the artsy Bohemian circle which included French painter/poet Max Jacob and, of course, Modigliani, whom she famously described as a “swine”. They had a two-year affair during which they shared an apartment in Montparnasse and plenty of hashish. This is Modigliani’s Portrait of Beatrice Hastings:

modigliani-hastings

And since it was the story of Jeanne Hébuterne which began all the Modigliani madness here on Museworthy, I’d like to honor her again in closing. This is Modigiani’s Portrait of Jeanne Sitting:

modigliani-jeanne-sitting-1918

10 thoughts on “Modigliani Madness

  1. K L says:

    Claudia,
    You are such a wonderful story teller. Ever thought about writing a book? The way that you present these things from the past makes me wish I could go back to school and learn everything there is to know. If you do write a book I promise to buy one.

    • artmodel says:

      KL,

      You are too kind. But it’s gratifying to know that you enjoy my blog posts so much. As far as a book, people bring up that subject to me fairly often. But gee, I don’t know! It’s a big undertaking.

      Thanks so much.

      Claudia

  2. Jennifer says:

    It may well have been Modigliani that brought me to your Blog! I know I chanced upon it when I was Googling some fact for a book I was editing, and as my bookmarked entry to your Blog contains a photo of a nude by Modi, that could well be how I got here – so thanks to Modigliani for leading me to your always interesting and thought-provoking Blog! I’ve just spent an enjoyable couple of hours catching up with your recent posts. It’s been a difficult few months in this neck of the woods and I haven’t kept up with things as I would have liked and there is still lots I want to read through on your eariler archives. I still marvel at the variety of paintings on your Blog – it’s great to see so much artwork that I’ve not seen before! But also the photos of your life – New York, cats in boxes and yourself! Hope you’re enjoying your summer tomatoes; and good luck at keeping ‘the beast’ at bay. And yes, a book on artists’ muses sounds an excellent idea – I’m sure you have the skills to write it!

    All the best

    Jennifer

    • artmodel says:

      Jennifer,

      You have corroborated my Modigliani claim! Cool. I remember the post you’re referring to with the nude. That was Modigliani’s first appearance on Museworthy. I’m so glad it brought you here.

      I’m also glad you’re catching up on archives. It’s been a strange couple of months for me personally, but my blogging held it’s own I think.

      It’s great to hear from you again Jennifer! Thanks for your comments :-)

      Claudia

  3. Stephanie says:

    Hey Claudia,

    I don’t mean to nag or anything…. But see? Everybody wants you to write a book!!!!

    Love,
    Steph

  4. Sheramy says:

    Hi Claudia,
    It’s strange, isn’t it, the Modigliani madness!

    I went to Paris in May, and I made my first trip to Pere Lachaise cemetery (finally). The tomb of Modigliani and Jeanne Hebuterne was of course on my list of places to see. It’s a little off the main paths, so I was surprised to find a host of offerings lying on the stone: Metro tickets, small pebbles (because he was Jewish, I assume), museum tickets, and even a paintbrush. He had more ‘gifts’ on his tomb than any other I saw that day, and that includes Jim Morrison!

    By the way, among the sculptures that inspired his paintings are the so-called Cycladic idols from the Bronze Age Aegean. He saw them in the Louvre. The family resemblance is definitely there!

    • artmodel says:

      Sheramy,

      Wow, thanks for sharing your observations at Pere Lachaise. I’m not surprised to hear that Modigliani’s grave is an idol’s shrine, and even giving Jim Morrison a run for his money! Yes, Modigliani was Jewish.

      I’m going to check out those Bronze Age sculptures. Modigliani began as a sculptor as you know, and carried those elements into his transition to painting.

      Great to hear from you, Sheramy. Thanks for your wonderful comments!

      Claudia

  5. K L says:

    Claudia,
    Back again, the book, it could be your great calling…how hard could it be for someone like you? Just think of the joy in doing it and don’t worry about the crap. I’ve never sold a painting but it doesn’t stop me from painting..I love doing it, I think the same way you love this writing you do. I can tell because you do it so well. Come on let it flow!

    • artmodel says:

      KL, this book issue is gaining a lot of support and enthusiasm among my readers! I’m so flattered, really. You make good points.

      But if it is a “calling”, it’s a calling that has to take second place to art modeling. That is, and always will be, my first :-)

      Thanks KL!

      Claudia

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