Written by Modigliani in a 1907 sketchbook
What I am Searching for......
If all the anecdotes and art historical treatises that continue to perpetuate the Modigliani ‘legend’ and analyse his work were suddenly to disappear so that just a few lines – written by the artist – remained to define his artistic, spiritual path, they would include:
What I am searching for is neither the real nor the unreal, but the Subconscious,
the mystery of what is Instinctive in the human Race.
Happiness is an angel with a solemn face.
This showing of his drawings also pays tribute to my friend Noël Alexandre. And to his unique study The Unknown Modigliani which provides essential reading and ‘looking’ for anyone wanting a true and deeper understanding of Modigliani’s art.
It reproduces for the first time - and in Modigliani’s own hand - those two crucial declarations. And brings to light some three hundred and seventy-six previously unknown drawings Modigliani gave his father Paul Alexandre. The letters and postcards Modigliani wrote him. And the very moving account of their friendship during Modigliani’s first years in Paris.
The Unknown Modigliani is indeed the only publication devoted to a single collection of the artist’s drawings, virtually intact since they were drawn. And since they were given by Modigliani to their original owner. Many have been removed from their sketchbooks. And reveal the fervour of Modigliani’s creative process as he strove in drawing after drawing, made in rapid succession of the same subject, to portray the beauty and inner mystery of human beings, in the simplest, most pure way he could.
Among those drawings are the four very beautiful and different works being exhibited for sale – for the first time in their over ninety-five year old history.
They have been shown once before in the 1993 international exhibition of Drawings from the Collection of Paul Alexandre.
Dr Paul Alexandre met Modigliani in the autumn of 1907. He became his close friend and, until August 1914, his principal, often sole patron. And formed an unequalled collection of his early works.
From the day of our first meeting, I was struck by his remarkable artistic gifts, and begged him not to destroy a single sketchbook or a single study. I put the meagre resources I could spare at his disposal, and I possess almost all his paintings and drawings from this period….the preparatory sketches and finished drawings allow one to follow his development step by step, stroke by stroke, during those successive states (like the states of an engraving) of the remarkably active mind of an artist searching for a style of his own which did, in fact, very soon emerge.
From The Unknown Modigliani by Noël Alexandre, dedicated:
To my friend Richard Nathanson whose enthusiasm and artistic sensitivity have encouraged me
to publish this account.
In 1901, aged seventeen, Modigliani wrote to his fellow art student Oscar Ghilia:
I am also trying to formulate with the greatest lucidity the truths of art and life I have discerned scattered among the beauties of Rome, and as their inner meaning becomes clear to me I shall seek to reveal and to rearrange their composition, I could almost say metaphysical architecture, in order to create out of it my truth of life, beauty and art.
Goodbye. Speak to me about yourself as I have spoken of myself. Isn’t this the aim of friendship: to shape and exalt the will according to its bent, to reveal each to the other and to ourselves? Goodbye.
And to Ghilia later that year:
We others (excuse the plural) have different rights from normal people, for we have different needs which place us above – this must be said and believed – their morality. It is our duty never to be consumed by the sacrificial fire. Your real duty is to save your dream. Beauty too has some painful duties: these produce, however, the noblest achievements of the soul.
The passion and clarity with which Modigliani was able, at so early an age, to express his beliefs reveals his lyrical originality. His uncompromising determination to create his own visual ideal of truth and beauty. And the absolute conviction he would succeed.
The four exhibited drawings span the years 1908 to circa 1912. And touch upon two relevant issues:
Modigliani carved twenty-five known stone carvings. All are reproduced in the 1965 authoritative Ceroni monograph on his sculpture.
Many claim that Modigliani’s wanted to devote himself principally to sculpture. And that only his frail health prevented him.
Modigliani’s introduction through Paul Alexandre to Brancusi in 1909, ‘coincided’ with his need to abstract himself from portraying outward appearance: and create images of 'angel spirits'.
In his declared search, sculpture became a vital cathartic rite of passage, for which he chose the elemental substance of stone - not terracotta, wood or even bronze. Through his carvings and related drawings, he forged his idealised vision of the human spirit. Yet whilst many faces and figures are androgynous certain sculptures and drawings reflect the appearance and spirit of Anna Akhmatova.
For an artist so in love with line and colour. And so able, through them, to convey the subtlest nuance of mood. For someone so fascinated by his fellow beings. And so intent upon portraying their inner beauty and richness of character, could robust health, in truth, have prevented his painting of humanity?
To do any work, I must have a living person. I must be able to see him opposite me….. He told the painter Leopold Survage.
Modigliani retained an abiding love for Italy. Yet from 1906, he spent little time there. The soft ochres, burnt siennas and raw umbers that fill many of his paintings may well have been a subconscious memory of the beautiful, faded colours of sun-bleached buildings seen in his native land.
Much has been said of his profound admiration for the Italian masters he studied in Florence, Rome and Venice – among them, Giotto, Simone di Martini, Bellini, Cimabue, Botticelli and Titian. Also the influence of Greek, Cycladic, Indian, Egyptian, Eastern and African art.
But why did each of these seemingly disparate cultures and art forms speak so vividly to Modigliani? Where, for him, lay their unifying energy? And what collective insight into his art do they reveal?
His deeply-felt link with his Italian artist ancestors is evident in their early tender, spiritual humanity. And later, in their sensual adoration of the female body and profound portrayal of human nature.
The purity and majesty of Greek form. The elemental simplicity and symbolism of the female Cycladic figure. The supreme sensuality and movement of dancing Indian deities. The mesmerising aura, from the grave, of Egyptian goddesses and queens mirrored in the noble bearing and face of the poetess Anna Akhmatova. The inner serenity and understanding of Eastern Buddhist art. And the African artist’s gouged, excoriating vision of the human soul.
All touched upon essential elements of Modigliani's own deeply-searching, lyrical nature. And all mysteriously fused to create a unique vision of the human soul. A vision of great sacrifice and timeless beauty that will continue to enrich human perception.
Lunia Czechowska, who sat for one of Modigliani’s last portraits, recounts a moving incident, not long before he died:
‘While I was preparing dinner, he asked me to lift my head for a few moments and by the light of a candle, he drew a beautiful sketch on which he wrote.’
Life is a gift: from the few to the many: from those who know and who have to those who do not know and who do not have.
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