Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) Portrait de femme 80 x 69 cm. (31.5 x 27 1/8 in.)

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Lot 53*
Amedeo Modigliani
Christina 80 x 69 cm. (31.5 x 27 1/8 in.)

Sold for £ 1,546,650 (US$ 1,902,118) inc. premium
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)
signed (upper right)
oil on canvas
80 x 69 cm. (31.5 x 27 1/8 in.)
Executed circa 1916


  • Provenance:
    Leopold Zborowski, Paris.
    Hermann d'Audretsch, The Hague.
    E.J.Van Wisselingh & Co., Amsterdam, acquired from the above in 1937.
    Mr and Mrs M.R.Chipman, London and Montreal, acquired from the above, December 9, 1937.
    Mrs Margo Reeves, Toronto, (daughter of the above).
    Thence by descent to the present owners.

    Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts, Canada Collects, 1860-1960, 1960, no.135.

    This work will be sold with a certificate of authenticity from Marc Restellini, dated 7 May, 2001, Paris, and will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné to be published by the Wildenstein Institute.

    This work will be sold with a photographic certificate from the Archives Legales Amedeo Modigliani, dated 20 April, 2004, Paris.

    In 1914, following a period of intense activity as a sculptor, Amedeo Modigliani returned to the medium of painting, to which he devoted the remaining years of his short life. Modigliani’s style of painting developed into a highly personal form of artistic expression in which elements of the sculptural remain undeniably present. Overtly influenced by the linear simplicity of African and Greek Archaic sculpture - Cycladic art in particular -, Modigliani’s limestone work had equally absorbed the principles of purity of form advocated by his friend and contemporary artist, Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957). On canvas, these influences were translated into a subtle breaking down of the figure into simple geometric shapes, defined by an elegant and sensuous line, and held together with a modulating use of colour.

    Born into a sephardic family from Livorno (Leghorn), Modigliani had begun his artistic formation at the age of fourteen, when he attended the drawing lessons offered at the city’s Scuola di belle arti (1898). Four years later, in 1902, he followed his good friend and fellow artist Oscar Ghilia to Florence, where he enrolled in the Scuola libera di nudo and entered the class of the macchiaioli painter Giovanni Fattori (1825-1908). At the same time, his frequent visits to the churches and art galleries of Florence drew Modigliani’s attention to the artistic heritage of his country. It is from his personal interests in Tuscan Trecento painting as well as in the Florentine Mannerist works of artists like Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1556) that Modigliani compiled a visual catalogue to which he reverted when composing his own paintings and drawings. In 1903, the two artists moved to Venice. Here, Modigliani followed life-drawing classes held at the Istituto di belle arti di Venezia and continued his personal education in the history of art. At the Venice Biennali of 1903 and 1905, Modigliani was able to admire at first hand paintings by the French Impressionist artists as well as sculptures by Auguste Rodin.

    Modigliani’s decisive move to Paris was made in January 1906. He first settled in quarter of Montmartre and enrolled in the life-drawing classes at the Academie Colarossi, where, among others, he met and befriended Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955). In 1907, he was introduced to the young Paul Alexandre, a doctor and art dealer who became the artist’s first patron. The same year, Modigliani viewed the important Cezanne retrospective at the Salon d’automne, a year following the master’s death. Cezanne’s art, and more precisely his attempts to reproduce Nature according to its formal composition of ‘spheres, cones and cylinders’ were to have a determining influence on Modigliani’s paintings and drawings of this period. It was through the doctor that, in 1909, Modigliani made the acquaintance of Constantin Brancusi. The same year, Modigliani moved to the ‘Cite Falguiere’ in Montparnasse, the centre of artistic activity. Rapidly, Modigliani became one of the important members of the social art scene; his work however always maintained its independence from any of his contemporaries’ work or aesthetic principles. During the years following his decisive encounter with Brancusi, Modigliani turned progressively to sculpture, and developed several series of ‘Caryatid’ heads. On paper, he studied the caryatid form in its full figure, working out a visual synthesis between the Archaic model, Brancusi’s plastic purifications, and his own sense for tone and colouring. Modigliani carried out similar interests in painting, although he was for some time less interested in the medium. When he turned himself more seriously to painting, Modigliani sustained the synthetic methods for modelling the figure he had developed with sculpture. From 1916 onward, his painted portraits and nudes became the visual exponents of his new aesthetic ideal.

    While his relationship with the young English journalist Beatrice Hasting was undergoing increasing tensions, his health became more and more precarious (Modigliani had contracted tuberculosis as a child and carried the dormant malignancy throughout his life). Years of poverty and a dissipated lifestyle were gradually affecting the artist’s mental and physical health. In addition, Modigliani’s work was not selling well. Although by now private collectors were beginning to show an interest in his work, buyers remained reserved. In 1914, Modigliani had met, through the poet and writer Max Jacob, the art dealer Paul Guillaume. Guillaume had included some works by Modigliani in group exhibitions held at his gallery. However, greater personal attention came from the acquaintance Modigliani made in 1916 of Leopold Zborowski, a young Polish poet and litterateur recently settled in Paris. A man of innate kindness with genuine interest in Modigliani’s art, Zborowski decided to re-direct his own endeavours and actively assist the artist in selling his work. An intense friendship flourished between the two men, although Zborowski’s considerate attentions towards Modigliani were not always reciprocated with the same generous and genteel manner. In 1917, Zborowski offered the impoverished artist the space of the drawing room of his own house, at 3, rue Joseph-Bara, and sponsored all his painting materials. He also paid for models to pose for the artist. Zborowski himself, together with his wife Hanka and their house guest Lunia Czechowska also modelled for Modigliani. The sitter of the present painting has not been fully identified; she may have been one of the many models from this period. The same year, Modigliani met Jeanne Hebuterne (1898-1920), a nineteen year-old student at the Academie Colarossi. Companion, muse and later wife, Jeanne endured the turmoil and trepidations of Modigliani’s last years. With Jeanne’s love, Zborowski’s support and Guillaume’s continuing interest, Modigliani entered a period of fervent work. In December 1917, he held his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Berthe Weill. Reporting on this exhibition a few weeks later, the writer and art critic Francis Carco wrote:

    The exhibition comprised a few nudes, several portraits and about thirty drawings….I don’t imagine that Modigliani will ever try other genres.
    But the portraits, as much as the nudes, which he flung so thoughtlessly into the marketplace would themselves suffice to exalt his art. [...] It is not a question of realism, in the sense given the word in relation to painting. Yet I know of nobody, prior to Modigliani, who could give such intensity of expression to the face of a woman.
    [in ‘Modigliani’, L’Eventail, 15 July 1919, and quoted by: W. Schmalenbach, Amedeo Modigliani. Paintings. Sculptures. Drawings, Munich 1990, p. 187]

    It was during the year leading up to this exhibition that Modigliani developed a more ‘realistic’ manner of depiction. Although this was not uniformly applied to all of his portraits or nudes from this period, the artist began painting the eyes with greater linearity, marking the contours with heavier black strokes in order to define the sockets from the pupils, and the lids from the lashes. This painterly ‘description’ of the eyes invites the viewer to engage introspectively with the sitter. Such ‘rapprochement’ between the sitter and the viewer contrasts greatly with the more distant, somewhat surreal, and at times aloof expression of other portraits by Modigliani – those of Jeanne Hebuterne for example. The present painting engages the viewer in a more humane dialogue while sustaining the artist’s eloquent manner of contour, colour and composition. However, real or surreal, Modigliani’s portraits do not attempt to interrupt the sitter from any form of activity. Indeed, most of his portraits represent the figure in a frontal pose, sitting on a chair or standing against a wall with their hands on their lap - when shown. So although a portrait may be given greater realistic features in the eyes, the overall impression remains of a character caught in his or her own thoughts rather than engaged in a certain activity.

    In a rare note pencilled in a sketchbook of 1907, the artist wrote: “What I am seeking is not the real and not the unreal but rather the unconscious, the mystery of the instinctive in the human race.” [quoted in: D. Krystof, Modigliani, Cologne, 2000, p. 76]. It is perhaps with this aesthetic ideal in mind that Modigliani tinged his painted portraits with a form of individualism at once poetic and silent. In this, his portraits carry the unsung story of each of the sitters and become, at the same time, the visual mode of expression for the artist’s technical strivings and aesthetic beliefs. Modigliani’s unique ability to address the issues of human individualism within the aesthetic ideal of his own outline remains one of the underlying elements of his posthumous recognition and success. In his own recollections on the life of Amedeo Modigliani published much later, in 1950, the painter, writer and film director Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) related to the artist’s work in the following terms: “Many other writers will discuss his qualities as a painter. But he was more than a painter – he was in every sense an artist, and his work is above all the record of the nobility and the singularity of an artist’s soul.” (Modigliani, Paris and London, 1950, n.p.)

    Modigliani’s mature paintings synthesise the artist’s key sources of inspiration: his overt influence from Greek, African, Renaissance, Mannerist and contemporary sculpture and painting fuse into a new form of aesthetics. The ‘style’ he invented remained highly distinctive from any of these inherited art forms as well as from any contemporary movement. Once again, Francis Carco elaborated perceptive comments on Modigliani’s art:

    There is no painter worthy of the name who, having synthesized all the thousand influences from previous centuries in his work, does not reject those influences in order to find a new direction.
    The new directions favoured by the artists of today [Carco writes in 1919, before the artist’s death] still amaze quite a lot of people. But if we leave the theorists to their fainting fits, a painter like Modigliani seems daily to grow more representative of contemporary art.” [ibidem, p. 187].

    Following the artist’s death in 1920, posterity confirmed Carco’s intuitive suggestion, transforming the controversy surrounding Modigliani’s artistic production during his lifetime into a celebrated and rapidly acclaimed offshoot of modernism in the history of 20th century art.
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) Christina 80 x 69 cm. (31.5 x 27 1/8 in.)
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) Christina 80 x 69 cm. (31.5 x 27 1/8 in.)
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