1884 AD - 1920 AD
July 12, 1884 – January 24, 1920). Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was born into a Jewish family in Livorno, Tuscany, Italy, on July 12, 1884. Modigliani was the fourth child of Flaminio Modigliani and his French-born wife, Eugénie Garsin. His father was in the money-changing business, but when the business went bankrupt the family was forced to live in poverty. Young Modigliani was also beset by health problems after an attack of typhoid at the age of 14 followed by tuberculosis two years later. The tuberculosis would affect him for the rest of his life. Depression also ran in his family and Modigliani suffered from it as well. At least some of his siblings seemed to have also inherited his stubborn, independent streak. In 1898 his 26-year-old brother, Emmanuel, was sentenced to six months imprisonment as an anarchist. In 1902, Modigliani enrolled in the Scuola libera di Nudo (Free School of Nude Studies) in Florence and a year later moved to Venice where he registered to study at the Istituto per le Belle Arti di Venezia. It is in Venice that he first tried hashish and, rather than studying, began to spend time frequenting the sleazy parts of the city. In 1906, Modigliani moved to Paris, the then focal point of the avant-garde, where he would become the epitome of the tragic artist, creating a posthumous legend almost as famous as that of Vincent Van Gogh. Settling in Le Bateau-Lavoir, a commune for penniless artists in Montmartre, he was soon busy painting, at first influenced by the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec until Paul Cezanne changed his views. Eventually, Modigliani developed his own unique style, one that still cannot be adequately categorized with other artists. He is noted for his fast work, usually finishing a portrait in one or two sittings and never reworked. Yet, those who posed for him said that being painted by Modigliani was like having your soul laid bare. In 1909, Modigliani returned home to Livorno, sickly and worn out from his wild lifestyle. He did not stay in Italy long and soon he was back in Paris, this time renting a studio in Montparnasse. He had originally seen himself as a sculptor more than a painter, and he began sculpting seriously after Paul Guillaume, an ambitious young art dealer, took an interest in his work and introduced him to sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Although a series of Modigliani's sculptures were exhibited in the Salon d'Automne of 1912, for whatever reason he abruptly abandoned sculpting and focused solely on his painting. In Modigliani's art, there is evidence of him being influenced by primitive art from Africa and Cambodia which he probably saw in the Musée de l'Homme. This interest in African masks also shows in the treatment of the sitters' faces in his portraits. The sitter's faces appear ancient, almost resembling ancient Egyptian painting as they are flat and masklike, with distinctive almond eyes, pursed mouths, twisted noses, and elongated necks. Among his works is the portrait of his hard-drinking friend Chaim Soutine plus portraits of many of his other Montparnasse contemporaries such as Moise Kisling, Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Blaise Cendrars, and Jean Cocteau. At the outset of World War I, he tried to enlist in the army but was refused because of his poor health. Perhaps knowing that for health reasons his life would be short, he carried a death wish, drinking continuously and consuming large quantities of drugs. Known as Modì by the art world, but as Dedo to his friends, Modigliani was an extremely handsome man to whom females were greatly attracted. Women came and went until Beatrice Hastings entered his life. She stayed with him for almost two years, was the subject for several of his portraits, including Madame Pompadour, and the object of much of his drunken wrath. Drunk, he was a bitter, angry person, always looking for a fight as was depicted in the famous drawing by Marie Vassilieff. Sober, he was graciously timid and charming, would quote Dante Alighieri and recite poems from Lautreamont's book, Les Chants de Maldoror, a copy of which he always carried with him. When the British painter Nina Hamnett arrived in Montparnasse in 1914, on her first evening there the smiling man at the next table in the café introduced himself as Modigliani, painter and Jew. They became great friends.