Modigliani & His Models
So today, I took advantage of my time in London to go to the Modigliani & His Models show at the Royal Academy of Arts (Fulbright stuff was good, too exhausting to write about again, though, and most of you were lucky to get the email!). It was small (only four rooms), but very rich - they even had one of his sculptures, and even some of his early portraits of Picasso & Juan Gris & other friends, painted when he first moved from Italy to Montparnasse in the early 1900s.
I was more engaged by his later works, however, not because they were more mature artistically (because really, a genius is a genius no matter how mature, so everything's good, right?), but because I was more interested in what was going on beneath them (not that the modern lifestyles of bohemian Parisian artists *doesn't* interest me...).
One painting that really intrigued me was a portrait of Lunia Czechowska, who was staying in the same house as Modigliani during WWI. Zboroski had brought Mod. to a house in the south of France when Paris was being bombed too heavily, to stay with him, his companion, and this other woman, Lunia. Mod. apparently became quite close to Lunia, and painted several portraits of her, including this one. When I look at it, the portrait, seems so self-possessed; and Lunia, so composed with her fan poised in midair. It is so still. Then, I read on the little info card next to the painting that Lunia was staying with Zb. while her husband was serving at the front. There is so little of the war in this painting - I immediately turned back to it, looking for any disturbance in its surface. Perhaps the red of the background? Maybe the bolder brushstrokes, not blended smooth?
And then I wondered: where was ANY of the turbulence of Modigliani's life in ANY of these paintings? This was painted in 1917. Many of the paintings that I most liked were painted between this time and 1919, about the time he died at the age of 35 from TB & alcohol (the path of so many Paris artistes-bohemes). But despite this, they all are so still; some, slightly melancholy (like this one), but never exposing any of the fin de siecle/wartime/modern angst that so many of his contemporaries showed in their use of lurid colors (I'm thinking Toulouse-Lautrec), fragmentation (like the cubism of his buddy Picasso, though I think you see some cubism in his portrait of Gris), or even impressionism. And it was this stoicism, I think, this ability to withhold artistic drama, that makes his later work so appeal to me.