The most wonderful and long-anticipated exhibition of Amedeo Modigliani – the most comprehensive of the artist’s work which has ever been held in the UK – has opened in Tate Modern in November 2017. It is interesting that the exhibition, among other works, features the largest group of Modigliani nudes ever shown in the UK, and is being shown to British public 100 years after they were exhibited in Berthe Weill’s gallery in 1917 (to be closed on the grounds of indecency soon afterwards) – the only solo exhibition of the painter in his lifetime. Modigliani’s life seems the epitome of that of the unrecognized and not-paid genius dying in the Mozartian age of 35 from tubercular meningitis in Paris. Italian by birth, Modigliani benefited from stays in Florence and Venice where he briefly attended painting classes, to devour the visual treasures of both cities, and has been influenced by the Renaissance period ever since. His later life developed in the Parisian circle of painters which will forever remain in history as a period of effervescence and constant creation that always went hand in hand with poverty. Modigliani spent time at La Ruche, a famous artistic residence, where he befriended Soutine whom he admired all his life, Chagall, Rivera, Kisling and Delauney. He knew Picasso and Juan Gris, critic Max Jacob and writer Jean Cocteau, he also had a love affair with the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. He was also greatly by the sculptor Constantin Brancusi - hence a large section on Modigliani’s sculptures in the exhibition, where the beautifully of real sculpted elongated faces seem to be borrowed from African masks. He had been financially supported by his faithful admires who seem to have stepped away to give way to a new benefactor throughout Modigliani’s short life. As Modigliani mainly painted people’s portraits and used all his acquaintances as models, the portraits in the exhibition are witnesses to the painter’s life and art in an equal measure. His benefactors, friends, models and lovers, known and unknown, are all there: the silent cinema super star Gaston Modot and haughty Cocteau, Paul Guillame and Léopold Zborowski (both were promoting Modigliani’s work and helping him financially), his lover Beatrice Hastings and his young fiancée Jeanne Hébuterne who committed suicide after his death. That’s why the exhibition’s curator Nancy Ireson has chosen the chronological way of presenting the painter’s work, as then it will be easier for the viewers to trace how Modigliani’s paintings and his short life were constantly intertwining.
The exhibition very symbolically starts and finishes with Modigliani’s self-portraits which are in fact very rare. The first one is a self-portrait as Pierro (1915), while the last room features a beautiful self-portrait done in 1919 painted in the studio which he rented with his fiancée Jeanne. Moreover, the exhibition allows to get into Modigliani’s skin – the experience, the reality of which is actually slightly creeping, so impossibly real it seems. This is done with the help of VR technology, the visual side of it is executed with minute attention to detail. Aware of not wanting to leave this studio inhabited by Modigliani – you might want to linger in this small box-like place with white-washed windows till the last candle on the table in extinct. And once you are in the artist’s head, his whole world is presented to you through his works, the style of which is incomparable to any other painter and is easily recognizable through warm hues of peach, orange and yellow and mystically elongated faces, as though the sitters belong to another, different world. Here are his networks of friends and kindred spirits (two special galleries devoted to his friends, colleagues and supporters), his nudes (known and unknown models), the children whom he painted during his stay in the south of France and of course several, renderings of Jeanne Hėbuterne in the final room, so beautiful and haunted in our anticipation of her tragic future.
Somehow this is one of these exhibitions which you enter with the feeling you actually had been there – had lived the painter’s life, had suffered with him from poverty and TB, had been through his passionate affairs with life’s people and colours with him. And you want to stay with him, you want to linger on the verge of his life’s mystery, you want to get warmer near his nudes which are glowing from inside, you want to look into his sculpture’s faces and guess what they have to say. The exhibition in Tate Modern will irrevocably change your life and your vision of the world, and might make you dream of those golden years in Paris where everything was about light and shadow, where death and life were so close and when human creativity was blooming.