Modigliani, Woman's head in profile, 1906-1907.
By Seungyong Chang
President, Art Collage JANG, Modigliani Institute Korea and J Books & Media
Modigliani was an Italian painter and sculptor who was born on July 12, 1884 and died on January 24, 1920 and mainly active in France. He became the epitome of the tragic artist who, with Vincent van Gogh, gained great fame after his death, living a miserable life of poverty and suffering in the poverty during his lifetime. He moved from his hometown of Livorno, Italy, to Paris, the center of avant-garde art at that time, in 1906 at the age of 22. Although living short life, Modigliani painted fiercely and as a result left relatively a number of works considering the time he lived. However, not many of his paintings during the early years of Paris (~1908), including 1906 of moving to Paris, remain. Referencing the Ceroni Catalog, created by Italian critic, Ambrogio Ceroni, which is the most recognized among the catalogs of Modigliani's works in the art field, there are a total of 337 paintings of Modigliani but only eleven paintings are listed from 1906 to 1908. Then, why there exist so few paintings of Modigliani during the early years in Paris compared to other periods? In this article, I’d like to summarize the reasons.
Modigliani's family was once a wealthy businessman's family, but by the time Modigliani was born, his father's business failed and his family fell into trouble. After moving to Paris, Modigliani got his studio in the Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre, a residence of poor artists. Although the place was a gathering place for the poor, Modigliani initially tried to keep his appearances neat so that people aware that he was once the son of a wealthy family, and his studio was always tidy. Modigliani regularly wrote letters to his mother, sketched his nudes at the Académie Colarossi and drank only moderate amounts of wine. Those who knew him at the time considered him a bit reserved and unsociable. Modigliani, who had a handsome appearance and knowledge of literature, was the idol of many women.
However, within a year after his arrival in Paris, Modigliani's behavior and reputation had changed dramatically, transforming himself from a fine, sophisticated academician artist to the prince of vagabonds.
The poet and journalist Louis Latourette, who visited Modigliani's studio after his transformation, recalled that his previously neatly organized studio was in great disarray. At the time, Modigliani had already turned into an alcoholic and a drug addict, and his studio was a reflection of his such transformation. In the process of his transformation, Modigliani resented about the academic art that had characterized his life and education up to that point, so that most of his paintings up to that point became victims to his transformation. Not only did he get rid of all his bourgeois heritage in his studio, but he also began to destroy almost all of his early paintings, which he described as "Childish baubles, done when I was a dirty bourgeois."
After moving to Paris, Modigliani worked at a furious pace during his early years in Paris. He constantly sketched and drew as many as a hundred drawings a day. Arthur Pfannstiel, author of "Modigliani et son oeuvre," said that Modigliani ceaselessly sketched and frantically, filled his blue-covered notebooks with drawings, and drew up to a hundred drawings in a day. His drive and passion for drawing almost reminded him of a madman, and his favorite alcohol and hashisi couldn’t diminish his feverish desire for work. However, despite his such passion and effort, seeing people's poor responses to his paintings, Modigliani spent a lot of time in despair. One day, when his friend reproached him for doing nothing, Modigliani said: “I do at least three paintings a day in my head. What’s the use of spoiling canvas when nobody will buy?”
With this passion, Modigliani created many paintings during the early years of his Parisian career. Then, why so many of Modigliani's paintings at that time do not exist today?
First, Modigliani immediately destroyed the paintings he did not like after painting them, and even if he did not destroy them immediately, he collected the paintings he did not like and destroyed them periodically.
Second, after Modigliani created his paintings, if he likes, he gave his paintings to those around him at no cost.
Third, Modigliani, who had lived all his life in poverty, was often expelled from his studio because he could not pay the rent for his studio, and as a result he moved frequently from place to place. Due to his frequent moving, many of his paintings in his studio were left behind, which were lost or destroyed.
Fourth, Modigliani secretly moved his place without paying the rent, when his paintings were left behind. Angry landlords who knew that he had secretly moved, destroyed his paintings he had left behind in lieu of payment.
Fifth, Modigliani often ate food at restaurants with no money because he had no money to pay for the food and he gave his paintings to the restaurant owners instead. The owners of the restaurants, who did not care about Modigliani's paintings, who was unknown at the time, neglected to manage his paintings, and as a result many of his paintings were lost or destroyed. It was also the case in bistros. The bistro owners, who were given his paintings in exchange for drinks, did not care much for them either.
Sixth, Modigliani was the man who was loved by many women due to his handsome appearance and rich-cultured beauty. He gave carelessly his paintings to the many women he met, but most of the women did not preserve them.
Seventh, Modigliani did not have the money to buy a canvas for painting due to poor economic conditions. As a result, he often painted again other paintings over his previous paintings. Therefore, many of the early paintings disappeared. From the result of X-ray analysis for Modigliani's paintings, it was proved that there exist other hidden paintings under his paintings.
Eighth, even in this situation, if Modigliani systematically recorded his paintings, it might have been of great help to understand his paintings even if the actual paintings do not exist. However, Modigliani never kept a record of his works.