Modigliani, Meet Dr Who

Growing up, Amedeo Modigliani was my favorite artist.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe because his paintings were different.  Maybe because I was intrigued by the romance of his life (better described as tragedy, but which seemed romantic and exotic to me then).   Now that I think about it, it probably had as much to with the fact that no one else I knew liked him (or knew about him?) as anything else.  I do know that it started with just liking the way his paintings look.  I had a postcard of “Woman with a Necklace” up in my room.

Amedeo Modigliani, Woman with a Necklace, 1917, Art Institute

And I had this one on the wall of  my college dorm room (Yes.  Art. Nerd.):

What appealed to me later, though, were the African influences on his work.  It’s the simplicity of the drawings of, or inspired by, African masks, that really speaks to me today.  Check this out.  I love that it’s on graph paper, and smudged.  It seems more active and alive and personal that way:

And this:

Amedeo Modigliani, Tete de Face, 1910

Beautiful.  And here’s an African mask like those that he based these drawings on:

So Modigliani, quickly, was an Italian artist born in 1884 who spent his adult life in France.  He painted mostly portraits and nudes and was influenced by Toulouse-LautrecCezanneBrancusi, and African art, particularly Baule masks.  He died of tuberculosis, a  destitute drug and alcohol addict, in 1920, after having had only one solo exhibition during his lifetime.  In 2010, though, an anonymous buyer bought his sculpture, “Tete,” paying the second highest amount ever for a sculpture:

Too bad Modigliani didn’t meet Dr. Who.  I’m not a huge Dr Who fan, but a friend recently told me about the episode that centers around Vincent Van Gogh.   The Doctor brings Van Gogh to the present day and takes him to see a retrospective of Van Gogh’s work at the Tate Gallery in London. (“Vincent and the Doctor,” Series 5, Episode 10, 2010)  It’s incredibly moving to see Van Gogh, who, like Modigliani, was not particularly appreciated in his own lifetime, see his paintings in a museum full of people, and hear a curator (played by Bill Nighy — it gets better and better!) talk very eloquently about how Van Gogh was the greatest painter ever, in his opinion.  Seems to me that Modigliani could have used this kind of vision of the future.  And probably it wouldn’t have made any difference.  But it makes me sad that an artist struggles in his or her own lifetime, never knowing that they’ll be beloved later.  Both Van Gogh and Modigliani could certainly have used some of that love while they were alive — and some of the cash, too!

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