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Presenting statues, paintings and drawings, this extensive display explores the main periods and stylistic turns in the work of Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920), as well as his relationship to his contemporaries. The myths surrounding Modigliani’s life and the record prices his works fetch often obscure the artist’s real accomplishment. He became one of the most important masters of European modernism while never really abandoned classical genres and classical modelling. The exhibition seeks to highlight the complexity and original modern quality of the work of an artist who followed his own path. The young Modigliani left his native Italy and arrived in Paris in 1906, and soon became involved in the artistic circles of the Montmartre, and then of the Montparnasse. The show places a special emphasis on introducing the intellectual and artistic milieu of the two localities, as well as their important figures.
The exhibition is divided into five sections. Best known today for his characteristic, finely stylized portraits and sensuous nudes, Modigliani in fact first sought to attain success as a sculptor. Therefore the opening section, The Temple of Humanity, focuses on the artist’s work as a sculptor between 1909 and 1914. His statues, which concentrate on facial features, are presented in the company of exotic works of art that provided Modigliani with inspiration: African masks, and ancient Egyptian and Cycladic sculptures. Further, the parallels of works by his contemporaries (Constantin Brâncuşi, Pablo Picasso, Jacques Lipchitz, Henri Laurens) reveal a Modigliani who was familiar with the latest developments in sculpture, and was aware of the aesthetic and formal issues that were explored by the Parisian avant-garde. All this notwithstanding, his poor health and shortage of money forced him to stop working with stone. As he returned to painting exclusively in 1914, his style underwent fundamental changes. Formerly, influenced by fauvism and post-impressionism, he juxtaposed intense colours with pronounced dark contours. The early portraits collected in the section titled Back to Painting, made from the beginning of the war and in 1915, testify to a relentless quest to find his own style.
The third section, The Portraitist of the Avant-garde, illustrates Modigliani’s return to painting with portraits, which constituted a major part of his output. A special emphasis is laid on his likenesses of fellow artists, which draw an exciting picture of the age, his circle of friends, and the Parisian art scene between 1914 and 1918. The models of this curious portrait gallery include such figures of the Montparnasse as the outstanding poets Max Jacob and Jean Cocteau, and better or lesser known foreign artists who lived in Paris during the war years, like Diego Rivera, Ossip Zadkine, and Viking Eggeling. One of the unique features of this exhibition is that some of Modigliani’s portraits are exhibited in the company of works by painters who stood close to him (Moïse Kisling, Celso Lagar, Chaïm Soutine, etc.), underlining the points of contact, as well as the differences, between the fellow artists.
In 1917 a special opportunity arose for Modigliani when his patron of the time, Polish-born art dealer and poet Léopold Zborowski provided him with models, a studio and money to create a series of nudes. The fourth section of the exhibition is an ample illustration of how the Italian artist, who was closely acquainted to old masters as well, reinterpreted this traditional genre.
The last section, The Lure of the South, includes works that the artist, who died at the age of thirty-five, made during the last two years of his life. Hoping to improve his health, Modigliani spent several months in Nice and its environs in 1918–1919, where he became close friends with local artists, including the Japanese Tsuguharu Foujita and the Russian-born Léopold Survage. His stay in Southern France revived the Italian painter’s admiration towards Paul Cézanne: the last portraits, whose sitters are anonymous, bear witness to the influence of the great master of Provence.
The curators of the exhibition are Anna Zsófia Kovács (Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest), and Sophie Lévy, Jeanne-Bathilde Lacourt, and Marie-Amélie Senot (LaM, – Lille Métropole Musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d‘art brut, Villeneuve d’Ascq). The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue in Hungarian and English.
The exhibition is realized by the Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery (Budapest), the Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais (Paris), the LaM (Lille Métropole Musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut, Villeneuve d’Ascq), in cooperation with the Ateneum Art Museum (Helsinki), with the special professional support of the Musée de l’Orangerie (Paris), and the Musée national d’art moderne – Centre Pompidou (Paris). Important works of art were lent by the Musée national Picasso–Paris, the Albertina, Vienna, the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, the Musée du Louvre, Paris, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Dallas Museum of Art, USA.