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Six things you need to know about Amedeo Modigliani

Written by
James FitzGerald

1 He worked hard, he played hard

Amedeo Modigliani was born in Italy in 1884 and moved to Paris in 1906, a time when the city was at its bustling, creative best. He spent most of his short, hectic career there. At his peak, he could apparently churn out 100 drawings a day. Good job too: he needed to pay for his meals with artworks when short of cash (which was pretty often). The few francs he did earn quickly went on booze and drugs.

2 The man knew how to network

Pablo Picasso, Chaim Soutine, Constantin Brancusi… Modigliani’s crew was basically a who’s who of the avant-garde in the early twentieth century. He also took cues from earlier painters like Paul Cézanne and  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and even African and Cambodian art. Chuck unholy amounts of hash and absinthe into that mix and you’ve got a pretty potent style.

'The Little Peasant', c.1918, Tate

3 He worked in 3D too

Modigliani has some trademarks you can spot from a mile away: people with stretched features, almond-shaped eyes and almost mask-like faces. But while he’s best known for working on canvas, it seems he loved sculpting most of all. He was so skint that he’d pinch stone blocks from building sites to work with. The thing was, his terrible health often made him too weak to spend much time actually carving them.

Even Parisians found him naughty

Ignored by the critics of the day and keen not to group himself with any movement, poor old Modi wasn’t exactly flooded with offers to exhibit his stuff in public. The only solo show he had in his lifetime was shut down by the police the day it opened. Why? Because his paintings of nude women (like the reclining one above) were labelled obscene because they showed pubes. Calm down, guys, we’ve all got ’em.

'Jeanne Hébuterne', 1919, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

One of his muses was a cockney

What he lacked in financial profit, he made up for with sexual conquests. He may have literally had more lovers than hot dinners. One of them was a writer from Hackney called Beatrice Hastings. She posed for him a bunch of times, including for some key works in this show.

His life ended in tragedy

Modigliani had been battling illness since childhood, and died at just 35. His final love, Jeanne Hébuterne, killed herself as soon as she found out. At the Tate Modern show  you’ll finally get to judge whether the art matches up to the crazy drama of his life.

Modigliani is at Tate Modern from November 23 until April 2 2018. Find more art to see here.

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