la boheme : mannered art without manners

Amedeo Modigliani. A minor modernist? ” All that was divine in Modigliani sparkled through a sort of gloom ” It is one of those only the good die young stories, terminating at the premature age of thirty-five. There was no women who did not regard him as desirable, if not dangerous, especially when when inebriated. What attracted the women was his contradictory attitude towards them; his own search for esthetic equilibrium meant saving the sexual sinner from herself and being personally obsessed by that ambiguous area between the earthbound and the aspirational.

Modigliani. Woman with black cravat. Read More:

The life of Modigliani has been filled with so many outlandish if not completely documented anecdotes that it tends to detract from the art. Mostly stories about guns, knives,drugs, fisticuffs and women and more women that recall Caravaggio in Modigliani’s incarnation as a star of bohemian Paris in that fertile first decade and a half that is mostly known for Picasso and Matisse, yet included Soutine, Braque, Leger and a host of other talents.

Beatrice Hastings. ---The third great "outsider'' among the émigrés in Paris died all too soon. The Italian Amedeo Modigliani destroyed himself through drink and drugs, driven desperate by his poverty and bitterly ashamed of it. Modigliani was a young man of fey beauty, and his work has a wonderful slow elegance that is unusual, but compelling. Through the influence of the Rumanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, he fell under the spell of primitive sculpture, especially from Africa. He went on to develop a sophisticated, mannered style built upon graceful, decorative arabesques and simplified forms. It is hard for us to imagine why it did not attract patrons. He is famous now for his elegant, elongated nudes, but it is portraits that are the most extraordinary. --- Read More:

Kuspit: …even though he developed in a Cubist milieu, he never became a Cubist. He flattened his figures, but he never fragmented them. They remained intact, and even convincingly rounded, as the caryatids show: Modiglianis figures are not the sum of destructions that Picasso said his were. Modigliani never violates them, and never suggests that they have violent tendencies. He gave his figures the long African mask nose of those in Picassos Les demoiselles dAvignon — he saw the painting in Picassos studio in the Bateau-Lavoir in 1907, the year it was made, and was amazed by it — but his figures are composed, even serene, if sometimes melancholy, compared to Picassos. Read More:

Modigliani was “La Boheme”. Dressed fashionably on a shoestring budget. Sold his art for near zilch to pay the rent, ate poorly, if at all, and drank far too much for his five foot three frame to support. A little beyond par for the course, but hardly the worst. But all this detracts from his art, which unlike the artist has aged well; a kind of posthumous greedy tribute based on 2011 auction prices. The irony is that Modigliani quickly burned what little money he acquired. All is instincts were devoid of the accumulation gene, the materialist impulse; all shrewdness were channeled into his art and a keen eye to his selection of influences.

---Modigliani was indeed a peintre maudit (like his friends Kisling and Chaim Soutine), but the people he portrayed are also subtly cursed by suffering, whatever their social prominence. It is Modiglianis ability to bring out the all too human in the pompously human -- for example, in the Paul Guillaume of the 1915 Novo Pilota portrait -- that makes his figures emotionally seductive, empathically attaching us to them the way Modigliani seems to have been. For Modigliani, paint is the empathic matrix in which the suffering figure exists, even as its schematic form gives it a spiritual aura that seems to reconcile it to its suffering, or at least works like a charm against the curse of suffering that contaminates life. Stoically self-contained, Modiglianis figures seem to have mastered tragedy, however tragic they look. ----Read More:

That discerning gaze as opposed to the “male gaze” of Picasso that deconstructed the fetish object, found itself unwilling to embark on gestures of nihilistic abandon. An avoidance of the temptation to annihilate the figure and create ghosts in the formal machinery of the composition. There is an accent in Modigliani on emotional life, on intimacy which was the antithesis of Picasso, essentially an individual who appeared incapable of intimacy and reciprocity.

Kuspit: In contrast, for Modigliani form was a way of expressing what is innate in human nature rather than an intellectual end in itself. As he wrote in a 1907 sketchbook, What I am searching for is neither the real nor the unreal, but the Subconscious, the mystery of what is Instinctive in the human Race….

---Amedeo Modigliani Blue Eyes (Portrait of Madame Jeanne Hébuterne) 1917 Philadelphia Museum of Art Read More:

…For Modigliani, art was not autobiography, as Picasso famously said his was, but an instrument — even form — of salvation. In 1913 Modigliani wrote: Just as the snake slithers out of its skin So you will deliver yourself from sin Equilibrium by means of opposite extremes. In a sense, Modiglianis portraits attemp

deliver his sitters from sin by balancing the opposing instinctive forces in them. This is the esthetic achievement of art — in contrast to life, where the opposites are rarely if ever in equilibrium. Read More:

Modigliani understood what could be done with African tribal art being brought to Paris from the French colonies and even North America and popularized by Andre Breton. This “primitivism” was synthesized with the grace of Botticelli’s women and earlier fifteenth-century Sienna artists like Simone Martini. His impressive stone heads owed much to the work of his friend Constantin Brancusi, a master sculptor.

---A sculpted stone head by artist Amedeo Modigliani sold at Christie's in Paris on Monday for euro43.18 million ($NZ75.81 million), breaking the record for a work by the Italian artist, the auction house said. It was also the highest-priced work sold at an auction in France, Christie's said. An anonymous buyer bid for the piece by telephone. The piece, sculpted between 1910 and 1912, depicts an elongated head with almond-shaped eyes and flowing hair, and it is reminiscent of the artist's paintings. Modigliani, who lived from 1884 to 1920, originally focused on sculpture but switched to painting in part because of health problems. --- Read More:

Its hard to summarize such a complex existence except it seems to touch upon the ideas elaborated later by the Frankfurt school in which there is a search for a messianism but without the messiah, the melancholy being no promise of salvation or redemption and in which suffering becomes an almost religious way of life. For Modigliani, it might offer a messianic moment that will overcome the violence
of the governing “now-time” ( Horkheimer) and open the doors to an alternative way of life, an alternative thinking in which challenging Spirit is reclaimed and the dehumanization of humans by the manipulations of the system is resisted in an effort to regenerate Life and redeem it from the all-celebrated triumph of ‘‘Spirit’’ and its cannibalistic offspring such as Instrumental Rationality: materialism, consumerism and militarism.

Nude -- Caryatid Painted: 1913 Oil on canvas Barnes Foundation Read More:

Modigliani definitely wanted love, or at least an alternative in contrast to the codes, passions, and ideals that are set by the omnipotence of the ruling culture prevailing in Paris at that time. It was an ecstatic, dangerous way of life within which new possibilities are opened but no guarantees are available; there is no optimism, no room for certainty about overcoming the swelling power of human beings’ self-forgetfulness. Modigliani is almost a sort of Kabbalist, or at least coming from that tradition   in which reality is essentially not absolute, and Life is not governed by or reduced to “facts”. Rather, it is the product of the mind, symbols and allegories, and objects disposed to infinite creative interpretations.


Kuspit:The difference between the sensual reclining nudes and the spiritualized heads — between the earthbound horizontality of the former and the aspirational verticality of the latter — signifies Modiglianis own contradictory attitude to woman. It is the familiar difference between impulsive profane and contemplative sacred love: woman is either all exhibitionistic animal body or all soul and interiority — either inviting femme fatale courtesan, representing the doom of submitting to ones instincts, or a goddess with the saving gracefulness of a serious mind.

The heads suggest that Modigliani used abstraction to defend against his desire for woman — futilely, as his apparently constant womanizing suggests. Succumbing to temptation in endless pursuit of love, he felt he had sinned, that is, betrayed himself — perhaps because he received sex rather than love, at least until the end of his life, when he met Jeanne Hébuterne, who committed suicide when he died, and who is buried beside him. The voluptuous nudes stare at the spectator seductively, promising — indeed, embodying — guiltless pleasure, in contrast to the (usually) closed eyes of the sculpted heads, suggesting that they are meditating on higher things than their bodies. Read More:

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