Art find sheds new light on life and work of Modigliani

A GROUP of 441 largely unknown early drawings by Amedeo Modigliani may go on show at the Royal Academy in London. They belong to Noel Alexandre, a retired university history lecturer in Paris, whose father was the artist’s doctor and friend.

The drawings were bought directly from the painter and cover a hitherto largely blank period in his early career from 1907 to 1914. The material recently came to light after M Alexandre made a thorough examination of his father’s papers. They show the detailed evolution of Modigliani’s distinctive and much-copied style, derived from African tribal art.

The collection also contains letters and photographs depicting the artist’s Bohemian circle in pre-first world war Paris.

The cache will go on show for the first time at Palazzo Grassi in Venice in September. An international series of exhibitions is being planned, and Norman Rosenthal, exhibition secretary at the Royal Academy, said last night that it was involved in the discussions. The new find may also be exhibited in Madrid, Montreal and New York or Washington.

Modigliani has been described by some as the greatest Italian artist of the 20th century. The popular image is of a brilliant man who self-destructed. Handsome, amorous and addicted to drink and drugs, he declared he was going to drink himself to death. He died aged 36 in 1920. The following day his mistress jumped out of a Paris window.

Modigliani was born in Livorno, Italy, in 1884 and arrived in Paris for the first time in 1906. He shared a house with other artists in the Rue du Delta near the young Dr Alexandre’s clinic in the Rue Pigalle Montmartre.

The artist was treated for pleurisy, tuberculosis and alcoholism by the doctor, who visited him daily and also began to buy Modigliani paintings. Dr Alexandre intended to write a book about the painter but continually postponed the project until his death in 1968. During his research, he wrote to the artist’s mother asking for details of her son’s childhood and adolescence. He also collected photographs of the period which fill out the history of the drawings.

Dr Alexandre’s collection was thought by writers on the painter to have been dispersed, but only 60 of the 500 drawings were sold. His son Noel has drawn up an inventory of the work and also written down his father’s memories of Modigliani.

The book has finally been written which contains all this new material and will come out later this year in six languages. The Italian version will act as a catalogue for the Venice exhibition.

Anna Somers-Cocks, editor of The Art Newspaper, whose publisher is issuing the Italian version, said: “All this stuff has never been seen before. It’s wonderful and it fills a great chunk in the artist’s life when he went to Paris.

“Nobody quite knew how his style developed … and what this shows is how he worked it out … The lines are so easy. Even if he’s only doing a doodle it’s so fluid. It is a process of constant simplification and you can see that process evolving.”

M Alexandre described in an interview with the newspaper how the exhibitions and the book would give a new direction to Modigliani studies. “More than 70 years after his death and after all the books and shows that have been dedicated to him, one might expect that nothing of any importance would appear now to improve the idea we have of his life and work,” he said. “But nothing could be further from the truth. All of Modigliani’s formative years will become a new area of study.

“Very early on he knew exactly what he meant to do in art. In these drawings one sees experiments and achievements that until now one thought came much later.”

Reference: Amedeo Modigliani Paintings

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