When Modigliani died in Paris in 1920, at the age of thirty-five, he became the standard-bearer for the myth of the bohemian artist — the unappreciated “artist-genius” consoled by wine and drugs. This celebrated myth, based on details of his colourful life, has tended, I think, to eclipse the appreciation of his work for what it is.
I love his painting and sculpture. He was friendly with Brancusi, another sculptor whose works I never tire of viewing. I sometimes wonder whether I would still have such a high regard for Modigliani's artwork if he weren't such a handsome and enigmatic artist who lived a short and colourful life. I am now going to propagate the myth by concentrating on his intriguing life rather than about his lilting and sinuous artworks.
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884-1920) and the painter Jeanne Heburterne (1898-1920) began their relationship as artist and model: he the artist and she the model. When they became lovers, Jeanne continued to model for Amedeo and he became the subject of much of her artwork.
It was said that posing for Modigliani was like having your soul laid bare. Modigliani painted Jeanne no less that 25 times.
Modigliani contracted both typhoid and tuberculosis while young and ill health, exacerbated by his lifestyle of excessive drinking and drug taking, dogged him throughout his life.
During his lifetime Amedeo or “Modi” to his friends, sold a number of his works, but never for any great amount of money.
In 1918 in Nice, Jeanne Hébuterne gave birth to a girl, who was recognized by Modigliani as his daughter. She was given the same Christian name as her mother. The following spring Jeanne became pregnant again. By this time, Modigliani was suffering from tuberculous meningitis and his health, made worse by complications brought on by substance abuse, was deteriorating badly.
On January 24, 1920 Amedeo Modigliani died. Jeanne Hébuterne's family brought her to their home but the totally distraught girl threw herself out of the fifth-floor apartment window two days after Modigliani's death, killing herself and her unborn child.
Her family, who blamed her demise on Modigliani, interred her in the Cimetière de Bagneux. Nearly ten years later, the Hébuterne family finally relented and allowed her remains to be transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery to rest beside Modigliani.
Their orphaned daughter, Jeanne Modigliani (1918-1984), was adopted by her father's sister in Florence, Italy. She grew up knowing virtually nothing of her parents and as an adult began researching their lives. In 1958, she wrote a biography of her father that was published in the English language in the United States as Modigliani: Man and Myth.
It took more than thirty years before an art scholar convinced the Hébuterne heirs to allow public access to Jeanne Hébuterne's artwork. In October of 2000, her works were featured at a major Modigliani exhibition in Venice, Italy by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini.
Today, Modigliani is regarded as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, his works on display in the great museums of the world. His sculptures rarely change hands and the few paintings that change hands can sell for more than US$15.6 million. His "Nu couché" (Sur le côté gauche) sold in November of 2003 for US$26,887,500.
“I try to formulate with the greatest clarity the truth about art and life, in the way that I experienced it.”