Victoria Charles


Modigliani (1884–1920) was a painter of great unhappiness in his native Italy and felt only sorrow in his adopted country of France. Out of this discontent came forth Modigliani’s original work, which was influenced by African art, the Cubists, and drunken nights in Montparnasse.

His portrayal of women—sensual bodies, almost aggressive nudity, and mysterious faces—expresses their suffering and feelings of being unloved and unjustly disregarded. Modigliani died at the age of 36.
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    He was impressed by trecento (13th century) artists, including Simone Martini (c.1284–1344), whose elongated and serpentine figures, rendered with a delicacy of composition and colour and suffused with tender sadness, were a precursor to the sinuous line and luminosity evident in the work of Sandro Botticelli (c.1445–1510). Both artists clearly influenced Modigliani, who used the pose of Botticelli’s Venus in The Birth of Venus (1482) in his Standing Nude (Venus) (1917) and Red-Haired Young Woman with Chemise (1918, p.16), and a reversal of this pose in Seated Nude with Necklace (1917, p.17
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    Modigliani’s love of traditional Italian art and his view of himself as working within and developing this tradition meant that his nudes were not intended to be radical or confrontational.

    However, he could not avoid his perceptions being affected by the avant-garde art that was being produced around him and he was inspired by similar influences. This led him to draw together the ancient and the modern, the traditional and the revolutionary. It was this blending of old and new, along with the intensity of his passion and his desire to express himself freely, that enabled him to create a new and unique vision. Despite the tragedy that often accompanied his own short life, his nudes are joyous and appealing and have remained some of the most popular in modern art
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    Modigliani’s yearning for perfection in shape and form became an almost Platonic quest to find the essence of beauty beyond the attractiveness and sensuousness of the individual. He began to concentrate on balance, harmony, and continuity of form and to lessen the emphasis on heavy plasticity. He wanted to combine the solidity of sculpture with a weightless luminosity of colour and an elegance of line. This aesthetic aim went far beyond the expression of the eroticism of any single figure.

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