In literary legend ‘Modi’ of Montparnasse, prince of the damned generation of painters, wilfully wasted his health and his troubling good looks in sexual brawls and drunken bouts. Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) came to Paris from Italy in 1906 and each year until his death the stories about him grew wilder. He died in fitting style, in a Charity Hospital at the age of thirty-five, of tubercular meningitis, his distraught mistress nine months pregnant.
Despite his dissipation, Modigliani left a large body of work, now housed in museums and private collections all over the world.
Speculators profited grossly from the legend. In his lifetime a Modigliani painting would sell for £4 or £5. Five years after his death a Modigliani was sold for £4,000 and today the price of prime Modigliani paintings runs into millions. Jean Cocteau was once asked on Italian television if the artist was mad. ‘He must have been by the standards of our age,’ Cocteau replied. ‘Instead of selling his drawings he gave them away.’
Modigliani’s parents were Sephardic Jews from old families and he grew up with an innate sense of élitism. Unlike Chagall, Soutine and other Jewish artists he was to meet in Paris who came from impoverished East European villages, he knew nothing of ghetto life or of anti-Semitism. ‘I knew Modigliani well,’ wrote Maurice Vlaminck. ‘I knew him when he was hungry, I knew him when he was drunk; I knew him when he was in funds. But I never saw him lacking in grandeur or generosity.’
Modigliani defied the artistic fashions of the day, refused proudly to join any group, and yet his sense of style pervaded the Western world for years after his death. Embroiled in the hectic and cynical atmosphere of Paris in the first War, Modigliani struggled to retain his youthful idealism and his purity of vision.
June Rose’s stylish biography benefits from first-hand accounts from his family, his friends and from his first patron. She reveals the artist to be a complex and contradictory man, as intensely human and vulnerable as any one of his portraits.
PRAISE FOR JUNE ROSE
“A grand portrait of renowned Italian painter and sculptor” – Publishers Weekly
“A tragic story of art transcending life” – Kirkus Reviews