Even though I am past counting candles on a birthday cake, I am not past “insisting” on an enjoyable day out to celebrate another year. I was sure the Modigliani exhibition would be an appropriate treat and I was not disappointed!
Modigliani is a complex character. Born in Italy to a Jewish family, he spent most of his working career in Paris, including the years of WW1. This and a prolonged childhood illness greatly influenced his art. At times during his life Modigliani’s art was scorned as unsophisticated and simplistic. Yet when you enter the first room of this exhibition, that opinion is completely overturned. The colour palette is both sensual and absorbing, the images distinctive and engaging.
Most people are familiar with the distinctive wide eyed, narrow – faced nudes that Modigliani perfected during his short turbulent lifetime, (he died aged 36).
However, like many artists, Modigliani went through various periods and changes. The work I was least expecting was a room of his hypnotic sculpture heads. Whilst living in Paris, Modigliani had an intense two-year period where he focused almost exclusively on sculpture (1911 – 1913). The figures are both beautiful and powerful, many resembling Caryatids (the classic female figure), which reputedly had a “religious” like meaning to Modigliani. African art played a huge influence on Modigliani and his fellow Paris contemporaries, such as Gaugin, Matisse and Picasso. Sculpture had been an early passion of his and it is unclear why he so abruptly abandoned this medium. Poor health is the most likely explanation plus a growing confidence in his 2D work.
By the time of his premature death, Modigliani was a confident portrait painter. However, like so many other renowned artists of the C20th he too is mostly preoccupied in capturing the “essence” of the person rather than tight representation or likeness of character. Modigliani sits securely in an extensive line of artists who have been interested in non-European sources, (e.g. African) that has inevitably extended and developed the western canon of art
At the end of this exhibition I felt privileged and grateful to have seen such an extended array of Modigliani’s work. It was both exciting and thought provoking particularly as Modigliani died so tragically. To leave such a legacy is awe inspiring and moving.
The exhibition continues until April 2nd, so you still have time to enjoy this “must see” exhibition at Tate Modern.