Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884–1920) was an Italian artist of Jewish heritage, practicing both painting and sculpture, who pursued his career for the most part in France. Modigliani was born in Livorno (historically referred to in English as Leghorn), in Northwestern Italy and began his artistic studies in Italy.
In 1906 Modigliani moved to Paris, then the focal point of the avant-garde. In fact, his arrival at the centre of artistic experimentation coincided with the arrival of two other foreigners who were also to leave their marks upon the art world: Gino Severini and Juan Gris.
When he first arrived in Paris, he wrote home regularly to his mother, he sketched his nudes at the Colarossi school, and he drank wine in moderation. He was at that time considered by those who knew him as a bit reserved, verging on the asocial. He is noted to have commented, upon meeting Picasso who, at the time, was wearing his trademark workmen’s clothes, that even though the man was a genius, that did not excuse his uncouth appearance. Influenced by the artists in his circle of friends and associates, by a range of genres and art movements, and by primitive art, Modigliani’s oeuvre was nonetheless unique and idiosyncratic
In 1917, Modigliani’s first solo exhibition opened at the Berthe Weill Gallery. The chief of the Paris police was scandalized by Modigliani’s nudes and forced him to close the exhibition within a few hours after its opening.
Modigliani’s behavior stood out even in these Bohemian surroundings: he carried on frequent affairs, drank heavily, and used absinthe and hashish. While drunk, he would sometimes strip himself naked at social gatherings. He became the epitome of the tragic artist, creating a posthumous legend almost as well-known as that of Vincent van Gogh.
During the 1920s, in the wake of Modigliani’s career and spurred on by comments by Andre Salmon crediting hashish and absinthe with the genesis of Modigliani’s style, many hopefuls tried to emulate his “success” by embarking on a path of substance abuse and bohemian excess. Salmon claimed erroneously that whereas Modigliani was a totally pedestrian artist when sober, “…from the day that he abandoned himself to certain forms of debauchery, an unexpected light came upon him, transforming his art. From that day on, he became one who must be counted among the masters of living art.”
While this propaganda served as a rallying cry to those with a romantic longing to be a tragic, doomed artist, these strategies did not produce unique artistic insights or techniques in those who did not already have them.
In fact, art historians suggest that it is entirely possible for Modigliani to have achieved even greater artistic heights had he not been immured in and destroyed by his own self-indulgences. We can only speculate what he might have accomplished had he emerged intact from his self-destructive explorations.
He died in Paris of tubercular meningitis, exacerbated by poverty, overworking, and an excessive use of alcohol and narcotics, at the age of 35.
[via modigliani-foundation.org &Wikipedia]