Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (July 12, 1884 – January 24, 1920) was an Italian artist who worked mainly in France. Primarily a figurative artist, he became known for paintings and sculptures in a modern style characterized by mask-like faces and elongation of form. He died in Paris of tubercular meningitis, exacerbated by poverty, overwork, and addiction to alcohol and narcotics.
Modigliani was born into a Jewish family in Livorno, Italy. A port city, Livorno had long served as a refuge for those persecuted for their religion, and was home to a large Jewish community. His maternal great-great-grandfather, Solomon Garsin, had immigrated to Livorno in the 18th century as a refugee.
Modigliani was the fourth child of Flaminio Modigliani and his French wife, Eugenia Garsin. His father was a money-changer, but when his business failed, the family lived in poverty. Amedeo’s birth saved the family from ruin, as according to an ancient law, creditors could not seize the bed of a pregnant woman or a mother with a newborn child. The bailiffs entered the family’s home just as Eugenia went into labour; the family protected their most valuable assets by piling them on top of her.
Modigliani had a close relationship with his mother, who taught him at home until he was ten. Beset with health problems after an attack of pleurisy when he was about eleven, a few years later he developed a case of typhoid fever. When he was sixteen he was taken ill again and contracted the tuberculosis which would later claim his life. After Modigliani recovered from the second bout of pleurisy, his mother took him on a tour of southern Italy: Naples, Capri, Rome and Amalfi, then north to Florence and Venice.
His mother was, in many ways, instrumental in his ability to pursue art as a vocation. When he was eleven years of age, she had noted in her diary:
“ The child’s character is still so unformed that I cannot say what I think of it. He behaves like a spoiled child, but he does not lack intelligence. We shall have to wait and see what is inside this chrysalis. Perhaps an artist? ” (excerpt from Wikepedia, the Free Encyclopedia)
His full life story is a fascinating one, marked tragically by illness, rebellion and addiction which would in the end, completely destroy him. During his early years in Paris, Modigliani worked at a furious pace. He was constantly sketching, making as many as a hundred drawings a day. However, many of his works were lost—destroyed by him as inferior, left behind in his frequent changes of address, or given to girlfriends who did not keep them.
I do not know what possessed him, but one school of though has it that Modigliani knew that his life was to be short due to the illness (tuberculosis) and perhaps that’s why he lived his life so fast and hard, with little thought for his health and safety. One thing we do know is that he was incredibly passionate about creating. This is the one thing that really stood out for me, when I read about Modigliani’s life and his desire to paint and draw, his obsession with other artists, his addictions, his self observations which were less than kind, I am really in kind, able to relate to my own life and artistic pursuits. As much as it would be a crime to treat oneself as Modigliani did, I think many artists are prone to such obsessive lifestyles and my path is no different, however the other thing that strikes me is unlike Modigliani I have a desire to change. I think that poor Modi knew, there was little hope for him to have much of a life beyond a certain age and this is what led to his complete and utter self destruction. None of us knows how we would react under the kind of stress that living with a terminal illness presents. He gave the world something very special in the legacy he left us, but how I wish that he could have known a joy filled existence without the use of those mind altering substances that perhaps provided relief from the stressors…perhaps he would have greatly benefitted from some meditation techniques and centeredness, we are so fortunate these days to have what we understand are therapies and choices. I’d say Modi had the feeling he had very little choice in where life was leading him, one road and one road only. I am feeling very fortunate today, as I realise that life could be so much worse, particularly if one gives into the feelings of hopelessness and despair. There is a lot to be said for supportive family and friends. I hope that Modi had some supply of these and enjoyed some lucid moments when he could. I think of him at rest now, and still look at his art with the wonderment of a child. He is one of my favourite artists, in some ways, many of my hero artists, Brett Whitely, Vincent Van Gogh, etc..were men and women who struggled with their demons, and to these people i can relate, moreso than to the artist who had it all under control.
I hope you enjoyed the article and my thoughts…i welcome your thoughts…