Tuesday 5 May 2015

Review of Modigliani: A Unique Artistic Voice at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

Modigliani: A Unique Artistic Voice
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London
15 April – 28 June 2015

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) is perhaps best known for his paintings of nudes with elongated faces and figures, although some say he would have become a sculptor, but for continual ill health (he suffered from pleurisy, typhoid fever and tuberculosis as a child and died at 35 from tubercular meningitis, after falling into a life of drink and drugs in bohemian circles). This two-room exhibition at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art focuses, however, on his works on paper, including 28 drawings in ink, crayon, pencil and watercolour. The majority are sourced from the collection of Paul Alexandre, Modigliani’s friend and first patron, and date from 1906-11, just after the artist arrived in Paris from his native Italy. During this time, he was constantly sketching, making as many as 100 drawings a day. Sadly, he destroyed many of these, deeming them inferior, or they got left behind when he – frequently – moved house.

Engulfed by the Parisian avant-garde art scene, Modigliani began to develop his own unique and recognisable style. As well as being influenced by the likes of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) and the contemporary cubism, he also drew strongly on Cycladic, Etruscan, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, African, Asian, Buddhist and early Italian Renaissance art. Already his faces are seen to be attenuated and there is a simplicity to the figures, with their meagre outlines, a sparseness of markings, and yet a certainty to the lines, as if traced steadily from something underneath. There is a lack of shading and cross-hatching and no real attempt to bring about tone or shape to the curves of the figure, and yet somehow they are there and they emerge surreptitiously, like the trail of a silkworm or web of a spider, rising from the page. Modigliani’s gestures are free-flowing and graceful, and the works on display track the development of the artist as he studied the same model repeatedly, often making numerous drawings in quick succession.

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