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Tate Modern shows the largest collection of Modigliani's nudes ever

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Tate Modern's retrospective of Modigliani’s work features intense portraits, including one of Pablo Picasso, and 12 nudes — the largest group ever shown together in the UK. All paintings were distributed throughout 10 galleries with tact, sobriety, care and delicacy. For this show, even Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp has reneged on its rules.

Curators want to shine new light on an artist, who is sometimes better known for his dissolute lifestyle, as well as to show there is far more to Modigliani than portraits of long-faced people with blank almond eyes.


The exhibition also includes the gallery’s first venture into virtual reality with visitors able to put on equipment that will give the impression of being in the artist’s small chaotic studio filled with tobacco smoke.
Amedeo Modigliani had first and only solo exhibition in his lifetime in December 1917. A hundred years ago it was temporarily closed by a police commissioner in Paris, because of his scandalous and indecent painting of a female nude ("Reclining Nude", 1917), which included, horror of horrors, pubic hair. One passerby saw it hanging in the window of the Berthe Weill gallery. The show continued only after the provocative canvas had been removed from the shop window.

The century-old painting was sold for $170,4 million at Christie’s in 2015 setting a new world record. The Long Museum of Shanghai became the new owner of the painting which is now on the second position in the list of the world`s most expensive paintings sold at public auction.

A tubercular alcoholic, addicted to women, hash and ether, unrecognised, impoverished and dead at 35 with the last painting still wet on the canvas: Amedeo Modigliani (1884−1920) is a Romantic throwback in 20th-century art. Even his nickname, Modi, is a pun on the peintre maudit, the accursed painter, a phrase coined half a century before he was born. Modigliani met and fraternised with artists including Picasso, Derain, Juan Gris, and Diego Rivera, with whom he shared a studio. For all this time, Modigliani was searching for his own style.


Left: Modigliani in his studio, photographed by Paul Guillaume, c. 1915. Photograph: © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée de l’Orangerie)

The show is beautiful, endearing, evenly elegant: one hundred portraits, including some of his best, painted over the 14 years that Modigliani lived in Paris. For exampe, to loan "Seated Nude" (1917), the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp has violated its own rules.
Amedeo Modigliani. Seated Nude
Seated Nude
1917, 114×75 cm
"Everyone has this sense that Modiglianis are all the same but in fact what you get from walking round the whole exhibition is that there is a gradual development, there is the introduction of new elements that perhaps one doesn’t normally think of. There is a style that comes through at the end but it is modulated and there are differences within it." - said co-curator of the show, the Modigliani expert Simonetta Fraquelli.
The Tate Modern exhibition. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
Modigliani sold not so many works during his lifetime. He only kept going by his agent paying for the materials and giving him a small stipend. Since his death in 1920, at the age of 35, his reputation and the price of his works have soared: in 2014 the stone "Head" was sold for 70 million dollars at Sotheby’s in New York, setting a record for the artist.
Sculpture played a significant role in simplifying forms. Modigliani’s real ambition, as he once said, was to work in stone, and there’s a fixity and incision to all his painted portraits.
Amedeo Modigliani. Female head
Female head
1912, 68.3×24.1 cm
Amedeo Modigliani. Portrait Of Jean Cocteau

Despite his poverty and lack of commercial success, dozens of artists attended his funeral in Paris, and the exhibition reflects his cosmopolitan connections and friendships. Portraits include his fellow artist Pablo Picasso — shown as a bit of a bruiser, with a shock of dark hair — the painter Juan Gris, and a playful portrait of his friend Jean Cocteau, which Ireson said came close to caricature and was disliked by the writer.

Left: Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Jean Cocteau (1917). In a long lease at the Art Museum of Priston University (USA)

More surprisingly, there is a portrait of the painter Diego Rivera, best known for his monumental murals in Mexico and his turbulent relationship with the artist Frida Kahlo, but who once shared a Paris studio with Modigliani.
The exhibition includes several portraits of one of his more flamboyant friends, Beatrice Hastings, who worked as a critic, poet and journalist under at least 30 pseudonyms, and whose many other lovers included the writers Katherine Mansfield and Wyndham Lewis. She recalled their first meeting, "Hashish and brandy. Not at all impressed … He looked ugly, ferocious, greedy."


Amedeo Modigliani. Portrait Of Diego Rivera
Amedeo Modigliani. Woman with velvet ribbon (Portrait of Beatrice Hastings)
  • Amedeo Modigliani. Portrait Of Diego Rivera, 1914
  • Amedeo Modigliani. Woman with velvet ribbon (Portrait of Beatrice Hastings), 1915
Amedeo Modigliani. Portrait Of Jeanne Hebuterne

The show ends with a row of portraits of his last lover, Jeanne Hebuterne, though there isn’t a trace of tragedy on their sinuous arrangements of ovoid forms. While it’s surprising Modigliani was even able to hold a paintbrush by this point, he seems to have been aiming, as in much of his work, for a quasi-classical feeling of serenity.

Modigliani is at Tate Modern, London until 2 April 2018
Title illustration: Amedeo Modigliani Seated Nude (La belle romaine) 1917, Private Collection.

Based on materials www.theguardian.com, www.telegraph.co.uk, official site of Tate Modern
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