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:
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:
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: