Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (July 12, 1884 – January 24, 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.
He settled in Le Bateau-Lavoir, a commune for penniless artists in Montmartre, renting himself a studio in Rue Caulaincourt. Even though this artists’ quarter of Montmartre was characterized by generalized poverty, Modigliani himself presented-initially, at least-as one would expect the son of a family trying to maintain the appearances of its lost financial standing to present: his wardrobe was dapper without ostentation, and the studio he rented was appointed in a style appropriate to someone with a finely attuned taste in plush drapery and Renaissance reproductions. He soon made efforts to assume the guise of the bohemian artist, but, even in his brown corduroys, scarlet scarf and large black hat, he continued to appear as if he were slumming it, having fallen upon harder times.
In 1917, Modigliani’s first one-man 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]