Modigliani: A Unique Artistic Voice

Art, Painting
Recommended
5 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) was a ‘bohemian’ cliché. An Italian who arrived in Paris just as modernism got cracking, he did the whole drink-and-drugs and no-bourgeois-trappings bit, before dying of TB aged 35. He lived in squalid poverty and got no recognition as an artist. But unlike other demi-monde poseurs, he was a bona fide genius. In these two rooms of modest drawings and small paintings, Modigliani’s increasingly intense and extreme reimaginings of the human figure are luminously powerful.

Unlike Picasso’s works from the same era, the experimentation in these pieces doesn’t feel like an artistic one. Instead, Modigliani seems to be trying every possible way to understand what it means to be a human being. The awkwardness of this questioning is balanced with the assured fluidity of his drawing. His sitters are as vulnerable as plants, as epic as gods, tender, totemic, barbaric and solemn, often all at the same time. Harnessing disruption and disorder with such delicacy, his drawings on flimsy, tissue-like paper have astonishing emotional immediacy.

‘Caryatid’ (1916) has a tremendous ancient physical heft, though its pollen-like chalk seems barely to cling to the paper. From the same period, a portrait of the actress Cristiane Mancini has a wrong-footing domestic intimacy, as she lounges in an armchair. There is the immortal in all of us, Modigliani seems to say, but there must also be the mortal in the immortal for it to have any resonance.

This is an old-fashioned show: don’t take the kids, don’t expect any fun and games. But when an artist is this heartbreakingly good, you don’t need anything else. Which is poignant, as few artists in their lifetimes got so little recognition for such greatness.

Chris Waywell 

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