The Artist & His Art
Born in Livorno, Italy, in 1884, Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was an Italian Jewish painter and sculptor, although most of his works were created while he was in France. He is best known for modern style portraits and nudes which bear his characteristic elongation of faces and figures.
The events and choices of the artist’s life are dramatic, and to some extent they parallel his development as an artist. And this parallel makes sense when we look at Modigliani’s artistic motivation; that is, he had the soul of an artist in that he was insistent that his works be a reflection of his views on society.
Physical illness was a recurring theme in Modigliani’s life. Around age 11 he had an attack of pleurisy, leaving him with lingering health problems that may have lead to the case of typhoid fever he developed a few years later. At 16 he once again became ill with pleurisy as well as tuberculosis, and these diseases nearly ended his life this time.
Around this time, and with the help of his mother, Modigliani began to learn from accomplished Italian painters. And it was during this time that he began to truly develop his skills.
In 1906 the Italian artist relocated to Paris, where he eventually was in the company of other soon-to-be influential figures of the art world, including Gino Severini, Juan Gris, and Picasso.
When Modigliani arrived in Paris, he likely regarded himself as an artist who very much fit in with conventional Parisian artists. However, within a year of his move to Paris, he developed a reputation as a figure who was rejecting of middle class values. His lifestyle, and even the look of his apartment, had the mark of personal upheaval, and he demonstrated a rejection of the world of academic art that he was just recently part of. This artistic rejection was sincere, as he is said to have destroyed virtually all of his own earlier works.
Reasons for this sudden turn in Modigliani’s attitude are not known with certainty. However, there is speculation that his behavior here may have been influenced by what had by then become full-fledged addictions to alcohol and drugs, a state which some conjecture may have developed as a result of Modigliani’s strong desire to ease the pain of his diseases. As Tuberculosis is highly contagious, he likely was very motivated to cover up his symptoms, to avoid isolation, so that he could continue to maintain his social life and create his art.
Modigliani’s lifestyle and chronic illness led to his development of tubercular meningitis, a disease that ended his life in 1920. While he did not achieve much commercial success while alive, after his death he became more well known, and his works were able to command high prices.
In the Classroom
Follow this link [http://artprojectsforkids.org/modigliani-self-portrait-tutorial/] to a Modigliani-inspired art project tutorial. (Note: In order to properly view the diagram on the tutorial page, you’ll need to click on it to enlarge it.) Modigliani is known for portraits that make use of elongated faces. This lesson gives kids an easy, guided method to help them create a portrait-type pastel drawing in the style of Modigliani. The author suggests that the requirement to draw the face using a distorted proportion, allows students to feel less self-conscious about the “correctness” of their drawings, so they can just create.