Modigliani Amedeo

b. Livorno, 1884 - d. Paris, 1920

Modigliani was born in Livorno, Italy, into a family of Sephardic Jews who had little money but a rich cultural life. When he arrived in Paris at the age of 22, he had had eight years of academic training behind him, and possessed a great respect for the old masters and a passionate interest in literature, especially poetry. He settled in Montmartre, entered the private Academy of Colorossi, and frequented gatherings of avant-garde artists and poets. Even though he is reported to have had high esteem for Matisse and Picasso, his art, according to scholars, never had any affinity to either the Fauves or the Cubists. Modigliani admired 14th century Italian art (especially the Siena School of painting), and was interested in primitive art in general and African art in particular. African art was an avant-garde craze at the time, and it is quite probable that Modigliani saw the exhibition of African art displayed at the Trocadero in 1906.

In the autumn of 1907, Modigliani met a young physician, Dr. Paul Alexander, who bought most of his early paintings. The doctor invited him to work at the artists' colony he had established on rue de Delta. They soon became friends and shared their interest in literature and poetry. Modigliani's art may be considered a personal version of expressionism. The expressionistic aspects of his work were the thematic choice of profound, often painful aspects of human life, extensive use of sharp outlines, and masterly yet intentionally strident or dissonant color combinations. He developed a highly personal style of extremely elongated, simplified forms endowed with a sense of rhythmic vitality and linear grace. Modigliani died of tuberculosis aggravated by alcoholism and drug addiction in January 1920, at the age of 37. The art dealers, who are assumed to have kept the prices of Modigliani's painting low during his lifetime, began negotiating a new price level at his funeral.

About "Portrait of Maud Abrantes" and "Nude with a Hat" in the catalogue of the Hecht Museum – The Art Collection, by Lydia Gurov

Portrait of Maud Abrantes (1908)

Not signed. Oil on canvas (verso of Nu au chapeau)
80.6 x 50.1 cm
Portrait of Maud Abrante

Provenance: Private collection, Paris. Acquired in London, September 1983. Exhibitions: Modigliani, The Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, 1951; Modigliani, The Museum of Modern Art New York 1951 References: A. Pfannstiel, Modigliani, Paris, 1929; A. Pfannstiel, Modigliani et son oeuvre – catalogue raisonne, Paris, 1956, p. 58 No. 6; Rizzoli, Modigliani Catalogue, plate 7b.

This waist-length portrait is one of Modigliani's earlier paintings, many of which are missing or not easily accessible, and, like most of them, it is not signed. Portrait of Maud Abrantes is painted on the reverse side of an earlier, slightly larger oil sketch of a young seated nude wearing a big hat. Maud Abrantes was a friend of both Modigliani and Paul Alexander, who identified her as the model while compiling the first catalogue of the artist's work.

The painting has a haunting quality. The face emerges from blue-lilac and yellow-orange waves, which create an elegant yet unsettling atmosphere. The face is so pale that it seems to be bloodless, the eyes are closed as if in some secret grief, and the over-exaggerated sensuousness of the lips makes them look vicious. The lilac shadows around the eyes and the blue wash on the right eye add to the expression of anxiety and torment, creating a dissonance between suppressed morality and morbid sensuality. The portrait, though depicting a particular girl, is in fact an idealized image.

This portrait of Maud Abrantes was made before the artist reached his mature style. The process of search and experimentation resulted in an expressive, dramatic image.

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Nu au chapeau (Nude with a Hat) (1908)

Not signed. Oil on canvas (recto of Portrait of Maud Abrantes)
80.6 x 50.1 cm
Nude with a Hat

Provenance: Private collection, Paris. Acquired in London, September 1983. References: A. Pfannstiel, Modigliani, Paris, 1929; A. Pfannstiel, Modigliani et son oeuvre – catalogue raisonne, Paris, 1956, p. 58 No.6, Rizzoli, Modigliani Catalogue, plate 7a.

This oil sketch of a naked young woman, shown from the waist up, is executed on the front side (recto) of the canvas, the verso of which is the portrait of Maud Abrantes. The model was probably the same one as in La Juive (The Jewess), which was displayed in a group show in Paris in 1908 (#9 in the Catalogue raisonne of Modigliani by Ambrogio Ceroni). A particular model is transformed by the painter into the image of a femme fatale in the Art Nouveau ideal. The drawing is forceful and determined: the young woman's torso and arms are indicated in rough outline, and thus the viewer's attention focuses on the face, with its firmly drawn eyes and eyebrows, curved nose, over-exaggerated mouth with red lips and powerful chin. The hair and hat are painted en masse, as if slightly washed this work borrows heavily from African art. The distorted forms and the carving of the lips are indebted to the graphic tradition of African sculpture. Other features such as the diagonal composition, the elaboration of the negative space around the figure, the half-closed eyes, and the general morbid look form part of the Art Nouveau and Secession conception.

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Nude with a Hat, 1908
Nude with a Hat, 1908
oil on canvas
Recto of Portrait of Maud Abrantes
Portrait of Maud Abrantes, 1908
Portrait of Maud Abrantes, 1908
oil on canvas
Verso of Nude with a Hat

The Hidden Portrait

A Note by Ofra Guri-Rimon (2012):
The Hidden Portrait

The catalogue "Museum Hecht, The Art Collection" by Lydia Gurov (ed. Ester Levinger) was published in 1999. In this catalogue nothing was written in regard to the fact that the portrait of Maud Abrantes on the verso was painted upside-down in regard to the portrait of "Nude with a Hat "on the recto of the same canvas.
Several years later, in ca. 2002, the mystery behind the painting was solved. I noticed another portrait of a woman in the area of Maud's neck and chest: a sharp eye can make out the outline of the eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth, facial outline and a hat of a woman.
It turns out that Modigliani painted the portrait of this mysterious and hidden woman before painting the portrait of Maud Abrantes. He decided not to keep this painting and blurred it with brushes of color. But that did not suffice: he also turned the canvas over and began to paint a new portrait, this of Maud Abrantes, on the more clean and clearer part of the canvas.
My frustration at Modigliani's disregard for onlookers who are made to view one of the paintings upside-down turned into the joy of one who discovers a treasure.

Ofra Guri-Rimon, Director and Curator
Hecht Museum, University of Haifa
Woman, Hands Crossed over Breast
Woman, Hands Crossed over Breast
or Head of a Woman, 1914 ?
pencil
Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne
Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne
with a Hat and a Coat, 1917
pencil
Seated Young Nude, Tending her Hair, 1916-1917
Seated Young Nude, Tending her Hair, 1916-1917
pencil
Print