Private Collection, UK, 2005;
Collection of Dr. Paul Alexandre, Paris (catalogue no. 115);
Collection of Noël Alexandre (by descent)
Travels through Italy along with early formal training in Florence and Venice insured the already noteworthy young artist both a comprehensive understanding of the history of art and an exacting capability as a draftsman; each in turn intimately informs the underlying structural elegance and sophisticated tonalities of his corpus of work in its entirety.
It is well known that from January 1906 when he arrived in Paris, until his untimely death in 1920, Modigliani was an integral member of the circles of artists, poets, writers, musicians and collectors who were the driving force of the universally renowned early 20th century Parisian avant-garde. By autumn 1907, Modigliani had already met Dr. Paul Alexandre, the artist’s first and most devoted patron. They were to remain very close friends until 1919, when Alexandre was called to duty at the outset of World War I; Modigliani died in January of the following year.
In late 1908 or early 1909, Modigliani decided to move from his Montmartre Bateau-Lavoir studio to the culturally rich, multi-national artistic community of the Montparnasse section of Paris. In 1909, Paul Alexandre introduced Modigliani to Constantin Brancusi, a meeting that reignited Modigliani’s ambitions as a sculptor.
Brancusi’s influence upon Modigliani’s production in sculpture is unquestionable; equally important was the principled example of Brancusi, who retained his individuality and remained fiercely independent of being swept up in current avant-garde movements. Following Brancusi’s dictum, ‘Direct carving is the true path towards sculpture,’ Modigliani dedicated himself to working directly in stone, holding fast to the position that the only way to save sculpture, which he maintained had fallen prey to modeling, was to encourage carving. It was during this period as well that Modigliani began, with great finesse, to assimilate non-European sculptural traditions, African art being the most influential. Owing to ill-health, Modigliani produced relatively few sculptures – one of the greatest disappointments of his life. Approximately 25 carvings in stone are generally accepted to be by him: 23 heads, a standing figure, and a caryatid [c. 1913; New York, MoMA]. While it is impossible to establish an accurate chronology of these works, it is generally agreed that Modigliani concentrated on sculpture and related drawings between 1909 and 1914.
From 1914 to 1916, Modigliani turned again to painting, at that point represented by the dealer Paul Guillaume. It was in these few short years that Modigliani executed the many studies of his lovers, friends, and colleagues which are held to be among the finest portraits in early 20th-century art.
In 1918, when Modigliani’s health began to deteriorate, he went with his partner Jeanne to the south of France. Somewhat recovered, he returned to Paris the following year. However, on January 24, 1920, aggravated by drugs and alcohol, Modigliani succumbed to tubercular meningitis in a Paris hospital. The next day Jeanne took her life (along with that of their unborn child). She was ultimately laid to rest beside Modigliani at Père-Lachaise cemetery.