Amedeo Modigliani: A London retrospective

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One artist, many myths

Amedeo Modigliani, or "Modi" as his friends called him, was considered to be "The Last Bohemian from Montmartre." Born in Italy in 1884, he moved to Paris in 1906, where he quickly led an extravagant life. Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne were among his greatest artistic influences. Modigliani was photographed in his Parisian studio (above) by Paul Guillaume in 1915.

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Inspired by masks

A seemingly female face, its features friendly. The sculpture recalls the characteristics seen in African masks, and not by coincidence. In 1909, Modigliani met the sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who inspired him to try his hand at sculpting and also introduced him to African carved figures. Modigliani focused most of his artistic energy on sculpting through 1914. He made this "Head" in 1911.

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From sculpture to portraiture

The dust that Modigliani threw into the air when chiseling into stone damaged his lungs and forced him to give up sculpting. So he turned to painting, and in particular, created portraits of his artist friends, such as Cubist painter Juan Gris seen in the above work from 1915. The substantial yet simplified outlines and the lyric, melancholy mood is typical of Modigliani's style.

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'A pig and a pearl'

That's how the English writer and journalist Beatrice Hastings described Modigliani, with whom she spent two passionate years, from 1914-1916. The artist painted this picture of her in 1915. Hastings most likely was the epitome of an emancipated woman at the time. She and Modigliani indulged in excesses together, drinking heavily and often also fighting fiercely with one another.

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Modigliani's scandalous nudes

Along with paintings of artists, friends and female acquaintances, Modigliani also created nudes, such as this "Seated Nude" from 1917. His works of naked subjects, and the depiction of public hair in particular, caused an uproar in Paris in December 1917 during the first — and only — solo exhibition he would have during his lifetime. Police closed down the show just a few hours after it opened.

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Hunting timeless beauty

This "Portrait of a Young Woman" from 1918 is typical of the painter. The face is narrow, slightly elongated, and the background is imbued with reddish tones. In his visual representations, Modigliani was always trying to explore the depths of abstract and idealized beauty. His previous work as a sculpture, among other things, inspired him to pursue such clear forms.

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Modigliani's women

In April 1917, Modigliani met the then 19-year-old Jeanne Hebuterne. The two of them moved in together in Paris, and one year later she gave birth to their daughter. Jeanne appears frequently in pictures that Modigliani painted during the last years of his life. Modigliani depicted her seated in the eponymous painting above, made in 1919.

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Landscapes

Together with Jeanne, Modigliani moved to southern France in 1918. The relocation was an attempt to improve his ailing health. At first the couple lived in Cagnes-sur-Mer, where the artist captured this "Cagnes Landscape" in 1919. The painting, one of very few landscapes by Modigliani, shows the influence of Paul Cezanne on the artist. Cezanne was one of Modigliani's early role models.

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A tragic end

In "Self-Portrait as Pierrot" (1915), Modigliani displayed himself as the sad clown Pierrot, with greenish skin and a forlorn stare. In actuality, the artist struggled with pulmonary disease throughout his life. He died of tuberculosis in 1920, when he was only 35. The next morning, his devastated partner Jeanne threw herself to her death. She was nine months pregnant with their second child.

His hedonistic life cut short by disease, his good looks, his drawings of nudes: All this made Modigliani a legend. An exhibition at the Tate Modern in London shows off his work and gets to the man behind the myth.