On view now through April 2, Tate Modern stages the most comprehensive Modigliani exhibition ever held in the UK, bringing together a dazzling range of his iconic portraits, sculptures and the largest ever group of nudes to be shown in this country. Although he died tragically young, Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) was a ground-breaking artist who pushed the boundaries of the art of his time. Including 100 works – many of them rarely exhibited and nearly 40 of which have never before been shown in the UK – the exhibition re-evaluates this familiar figure, looking afresh at the experimentation that shaped his career and made Modigliani one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century.
A section devoted to Modigliani’s nudes, perhaps the best-known and most provocative of the artist’s works, are a major highlight. In these striking canvases Modigliani invented shocking new compositions that modernised figurative painting. His explicit depictions also proved controversial and led to the police censoring his only solo exhibition in his lifetime, at Berthe Weill’s gallery in 1917, on grounds of indecency. This group of 12 nudes is the largest group ever seen in the UK, with paintings including Nude 1917 (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart) and Reclining Nude c.1919 (Museum of Modern Art, New York).
Born in Livorno, Italy and working in Paris from 1906, Modigliani’s career was one of continual evolution. The exhibition begins with the artist’s arrival in Paris, exploring the creative environments and elements of popular culture that were central to his life and work. Inspired by the art of Paul Cézanne, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Pablo Picasso, Modigliani began to experiment and develop his own distinctive visual language, seen in early canvases such as Bust of a Young Woman 1908 (Lille Métropole Musée d'Art Moderne, Villeneuve-d'Ascq) and The Beggar of Livorno 1909 (Private Collection). His circle included poets, dealers, writers and musicians, many of whom posed for his portraits including Diego Rivera 1914 (Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf), Juan Gris 1915 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Jean Cocteau 1916 (The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, Princeton University Art Museum). The exhibition will also reconsider the role of women in Modigliani’s work, including editor and writer Beatrice Hastings, who was not simply the artist’s lover but an important figure in the cultural landscape of the time.
Modigliani features exceptional examples of the artist’s lesser-known sculpture, bringing together a substantial group of his Heads made before the First World War. Although his interests would soon move on, he spent a short but intense period focusing on carving, influenced by contemporaries and friends including Constantin Brâncuși and Jacob Epstein. Suffering from poor health, Modigliani left Paris in 1918 for an extended period in the South of France. Here he adopted a more Mediterranean colour palette and, instead of his usual metropolitan sitters, he began painting local people, including shopkeepers and children, such as Young Woman of the People 1918 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and Boy with a Blue Jacket 1919 (Indianapolis Museum of Art).
The exhibition concludes with some of Modigliani’s best-known depictions of his closest circle. Friends and lovers provided him with much-needed financial and emotional support during his turbulent last years while also serving as models. These included his dealer and close friend Léopold Zborowski and his companion Hanka, as well as Jeanne Hébuterne, the mother of Modigliani’s child and one of the most important women in his life. When Modigliani died in 1920 from tubercular meningitis, Jeanne tragically committed suicide. Tate Modern brings together several searching portraits of her from Modgliani’s final years, on loan from international collections such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which depict her in a range of guises from young girl to mother.
Modigliani is curated by Nancy Ireson, Curator of International Art, Tate Modern and Simonetta Fraquelli, Independent Curator, with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator. Visitors can also enjoy a new integrated virtual reality experience in the heart of the exhibition. The Ochre Atelier: Modigliani VR Experience invites visitors to step into the studio where the artist lived and worked in the final months of his life. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a series of events in the gallery.