From childhood until his death Modigliani was loved by women; first of all for his mother, the French Eugenia Garsin, intellectual and freethinker, who from the age of 11 guided him to the study of drawing and painting; then he had affairs with almost all the models who posed for him, hence his work is, fundamentally, portraits and nudes, since he said that "painting a woman is possessing her"; but the women with whom he had a more serious and tormented relationship were Beatrice Hastings, an English writer; Eleonora Duse, Russian actress; the Canadian Simone Thiroux, a medical student, and Jeanne Hébuterne, a French painter and model, the latter his great love, with whom he had a daughter, Jeanne Modigliani, whose birth name was Giovanna Hébuterne, who later wrote her father's biography: Modigliani, Man and Myth.
Including Modigliani in a particular style is not so easy, although there are those who have defined him as expressionist, but when looking at the career of this artist, it is noted that his interest was very diverse; In his native country he was initially attracted by the art of Greek antiquity and the Renaissance, and around 1906, when he went to Paris, the center of the first artistic avant-gardes, he was captivated by the work of Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne and Klimt; there he was also in contact with various artists and intellectuals such as Picasso, Diego Rivera, Soutine, Brâncuşi ─with whom he began his sculptural phase─, Apollinaire and Huidobro, although critics consider that the avant-gardes of that time weren’t decisive in shaping his particular style, but it is clear that somehow in his work there are implicit ingredients of them: expressionism, fauvism and cubism.
Modigliani also knew and was interested in African and Asian art, influences that, together with archaic Greek art, become noticeable in his time as a sculptor (1). Although he considered himself more of a sculptor than a painter, he was only able to dedicate himself to this discipline for 5 years (1909–1914), since his health condition didn’t allow it, as well as his precarious economic stability; On the one hand, the stone dust affected his respiratory tract, and on the other, he didn’t have enough resources to buy and work the stone; however, his sculptural practice was in a certain way decisive in the configuration of his painting.
Modigliani’s portraits and nudes (3) are characterized by being schematic figures with stylized geometrization, by being characters with elongated, distorted, but elegant bodies and necks, which testify to his taste for mannerism, reminiscent of the women in the paintings of Parmigianino and El Greek. In them a sinuous and delicate line outlines their bodies that embody a subtle sensuality; the eyes, slanted, almond-shaped, are empty, without pupils, blind, giving the oval faces of his characters a tender melancholy or ghostly aspect.
In December 1917, the Berthe Weill Gallery in Paris organized the only individual exhibition held during Modigliani’s lifetime; but it turned out that on the opening day the artist’s nudes caused a lot of scandal and the chief of police, a neighbor of the gallery, threatened to remove the paintings if they didn’t immediately close the exhibition, which, according to historical data, was closed under the accusation of public scandal.
Although Modigliani lived in penury and was despised by many, his funeral and burial, which was like that of a prince, was attended by many people; and just that day the Devambez Gallery, in Paris, opened an exhibition with several of his paintings, because, ironically, success and fame came to him after his death, as the epitaph on the tombstone of his grave: “Death overtook him when he rose to fame”. Behind Modigliani, that day, also died Jeanne Hébuterne, who couldn’t bear the loss of her beloved and took flight like a bird from the fifth floor window of her old room, in her parents’ apartment.