Anna McNay

Review of Modigliani: A Unique Artistic Voice at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art


Modigliani: A Unique Artistic Voice

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London

15 April – 28 June

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) is perhaps best known
for his paintings of nudes with elongated faces and figures, although some say
he would have become a sculptor, but for continual ill health (he suffered from
pleurisy, typhoid fever and tuberculosis as a child and died at 35 from
tubercular meningitis, after falling into a life of drink and drugs in bohemian
circles). This two-room exhibition at the Estorick Collection
of Modern Italian Art focuses, however, on
his works on paper, including 28 drawings in ink, crayon, pencil and
watercolour. The majority are sourced from the collection of Paul Alexandre,
Modigliani’s friend and first patron, and date from 1906-11, just after the
artist arrived in Paris from his native Italy. During this time, he was
constantly sketching, making as many as 100 drawings a day. Sadly, he destroyed
many of these, deeming them inferior, or they got left behind when he –
frequently – moved house.

Engulfed by the Parisian avant-garde art scene, Modigliani began to
develop his own unique and recognisable style. As well as being influenced by
the likes of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) and the contemporary cubism,
he also drew strongly on
Etruscan, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, African, Asian, Buddhist and early Italian
Renaissance art. Already his faces are seen to be attenuated and there is a
simplicity to the figures, with their meagre outlines, a sparseness of
markings, and yet a certainty to the lines, as if traced steadily from
something underneath. There is a lack of shading and cross-hatching and no real
attempt to bring about tone or shape to the curves of the figure, and yet
somehow they are there and they emerge surreptitiously, like the trail of a
silkworm or web of a spider, rising from the page.
Modigliani’s gestures are free-flowing and graceful, and the works on display track
the development of the artist as he studied the same model repeatedly, often making
numerous drawings in quick succession.

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