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Modigliani and Bohemian Paris 1906-1920 Julian Halsby Thursday 14 February 2019


When Amadeo Modigliani arrived in Paris from Italy in 1906, he brought with him a love of Italian Renaissance painting including the works of Botticelli and Simone Martini. He was soon involved in the group of progressive painters based in the Bateau Lavoir including Picasso, Braque and Matisse. However Modigliani’s Bohemian lifestyle and dependence upon drugs and alcohol isolated him from many serious painters. Instead he sought the company of Maurice Utrillo, the self-taught alcoholic painter of Paris and Chaim Soutine an eccentric Russian painter.

Modigliani’s early work in Paris is mostly sculpture inspired by Greek and Egyptian Antiquity, but he turned to drawing and painting developing his very personal style of elongated portraits. He paints many of the leading Parisian figures of the time – Picasso, Diego Riviera, Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, and Leon Bakst. He also conducted passionate affairs with beautiful and unusual women including the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, Beatrice Hastings and Nina Hamnett. We trace his Bohemian life through the cafés and restaurants of Montmartre and Montparnasse.

At first his only income was made by selling his drawings for a few francs in street cafés, but soon he caught the attention of Leopold Zborowski and Paul Guillaume, art dealers who began to sell his work. In 1916, encouraged by Zborowski, Modigliani began painting sumptuous nudes often influenced by the Italian masters.

In 1918 he met the beautiful Jeanne Hebutherne who was to become the real love of his life. She bore him a daughter in November 1918 and they lived together in poverty in a flat in Paris. However in 1919 Modigliani took part in an exhibition in London alongside Picasso, Braque, Dufy and Matisse and one work was bought by Osbert Sitwell. Modigliani was on the brink of success. On New Year’s Day 1920 he wrote ‘A new year. Here begins a new life’, but three weeks later he died from tubercular meningitis. His distraught mistress, now pregnant again, threw herself to her death from a bedroom window. His grave stone is inscribed : ‘Death overtook him as he came to glory’

Julian Halsby studied History of Art at Cambridge. Formerly Senior Lecturer and Head of Department at Croydon College of Art. Publications include Venice - the Artist's Vision (1990, 1995), The Art of Diana Armfield RA (1995), Dictionary of Scottish Painters (1990, 1998, 2001, 4th edition 2010), A Hand to Obey the Demon's Eye (2000), Scottish Watercolours 1740-1940(1986, 1991), A Private View - David Wolfers and the New Grafton Gallery (2002). Interviews artists for the Artist Magazine and is a member of the International Association of Art Critics and The Critics Circle. A practising artist, he was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists in 1994 and appointed Keeper in 2010.