Modigliani at Tate Modern

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The first Friday in January and our first full day in London in 2018. I was up fairly early as I needed to make a work related call but after that we left the Premier Inn, leaving our bags to pick up later, and took the Tube over to London Bridge. We were heading for Tate Modern as we wanted to visit the Modigliani exhibition that had opened at the end of November. A Sephardic Jew originally from Livorno in Italy, Modigliani moved to Paris in 1906. He had a hedonistic lifestyle drinking to excess, indulging in other chemical highs, and died young from the complications of alcoholism at the age of 35. This exhibition is a comprehensive survey of his work created during his all too brief time in the French Capital.

 

After visiting the Cezanne exhibition at the NPG the previous evening, this was our second exhibition of portraits in 24 hours and a chance to “compare and contrast”, especially as Modigliani was influenced by Cezanne’s work. I think that of the two exhibitions I enjoyed the Modigliani more. The paintings were easier to like – Cézanne’s were more complex and darker in some respects. And Modigliani has been a favourite for some time.

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Self portrait (1919)

Unlike Cezanne, who also well known for his landscapes and still lives, Modigliani was something of a “one trick” artist , a painter of portraits. There is one small landscape included in the Tate’s show, but it’s best forgotten. But I love his distinctive portraits with their stylised long necks, oval faces and almond eyes, influenced by African and Egyptian art. Looking up close at so many of his paintings it was possible to see that he used paint sparingly, applied thinly compared to Cezanne. Possibly a stylistic choice but also, no doubt, influenced by financial considerations.

Portrait of a Girl c.1917 by Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920

Portrait of a Girl c.1917 Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920 Bequeathed by C. Frank Stoop 1933 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N04723

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He did try his hand as a sculptor, though, and there’s a room full of his sculptures early in the exhibition. As with his paintings, they’re stylised heads

Head c.1911-2 by Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920

As Modigliani was almost a caricature of an impoverished, bohemian artist, he surreptitiously “procured” his stone from building sites around Montparnasse and this was evident in some of the pieces on display where decorative architectural features were visible.

Many of the portraits were of his friends and patrons, including

 

 

 

Room 8 was largely devoted to female nudes

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Nu couché, (1917-18)

The exhibition website tells us that

At the time, these modern nudes proved shocking. In 1917, when some of the paintings were included in Modigliani’s only lifetime solo exhibition, a police commissioner asked for their removal on the grounds of indecency. He found their pubic hair offensive. Traditionally, in fine art, nudes were hair-free.

Personally, I found these some of the less interesting paintings in the exhibition. In a few cases paintings of the model clothed were displayed next to the nude painting. I found these much more interesting and attractive.

The exhibition blurb also tells us that

If Modigliani made these paintings for male buyers, their sensuality suggests changes in the lives of young women, who were increasingly independent in the 1910s. The models dominate the compositions, often making eye contact with the viewer, their made-up faces hinting at the growing influence of female film stars.

I’m not convinced by this analysis. I’m pretty certain that these paintings were created for the titillation of their wealthy male buyers and I doubt Modigliani’s motivation was to make a feminist statement.

Following on from the nudes there were portraits painted during a stay in the South of France from the end of 1918, returning to Paris the following year.  The exhibition guide tells us

Modigliani made some of his strongest works in Nice. ………… In the absence of professional models, he painted local children and his friends, capturing them in warm Mediterranean colours.

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The Little Peasant c.1918 © Tate

The next section of the exhibition was something different – a virtual reality experience. After queuing for a short while we entered a room where we sat down and were given a VR headset and were able to view the interior of Modigliani’s studio in Montparnasse.

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Through study of documentary material and of Modigliani’s works themselves, the environment in which the artist made his last works is reimagined. In this room you can immerse yourself in a virtual reality recreation of Modigliani’s final studio, which uses the actual studio space as a template.

The next room featured portraits of Modigliani’s “intimate circle” – his closest friends, including his art dealer, Léopold Zborowski and his partner Anna Sierzpowski (known as Hanka Zborowska).

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The exhibitions ends with a row of portraits of his last lover, a young aspiring artist, Jeanne Hebuterne who he met in the spring of 1917 when she was 19. Despite the objections of her parents they set up home together and a daughter was born in November 1918 while they were briefly living in Nice in the South of France. Tragically, the day after he died, despite being nine months pregnant with her second child, she threw herself out of the fifth-floor apartment window the day after Modigliani’s death, killing herself and her unborn child.

Modigliani’s portraits of Jeanne are a marked contrast to Cezzane’s painting of his wife. Unlike poor Mrs Cezanne, Jeanne comes across as a strong, beautiful young woman.

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All in all a very enjoyable exhibition. Together with the Cezanne exhibition we’d seen the previous evening it made it worthwhile staying down in London for a night.

 

The McNay Art Museum – the Collection

Marion McNay was an American painter and art teacher who inherited a substantial oil fortune upon the death of her father. She was an enthusiastic collector of Modern Art and on her death bequeathed her collection of some 700 paintings and other works of art to found the first Modern Art Museum in Texas. The Museum has built on the bequest and now has almost 20,000 works in their collection.

The gallery spaces are light, bright, spacious and airy and there was an excellent range of works on display.

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The collection particularly focuses on 19th, 20th and 21st-century European and American paintings, sculptures and photographs. It also includes medieval and renaissance works, art and artefacts from New Mexico and an extensive collection of theatre arts.

The 19th and early 20th Century is represented by artists including Monet

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Gauguin

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Modigliani

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Braque

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and Picasso

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Post War European art included works by

Ben Nicholson

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and Barbara Hepworth

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Not surprisingly there were a large number of works by American artists, including Joan Mitchell

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Hudson River Day Line (1955)

Willem de Kooning

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Eddy Farm (1964)

Sue Fuller

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String Composition #T220 (1965)

and two small paintings by Jackson Pollock

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I liked this little sculpture, Snake on a table (1944) by Alexander Calder

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This painting by Diego Rivera was one of the first works purchased by Marion McNay.

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Delfina Flores (1927) by Diego Rivera

Upstairs in the old house there works from the Medieval and Renaissance collection and the collection of artefacts from New Mexico. I wasn’t so keen on the former but rather liked the display of paintings, pottery, textiles and other objects that constituted the latter.

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I particularly liked the examples of Pueblo pottery, created by Native Americans, they had on display.

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Overall an excellent gallery, well worth the ride out there on the bus.

They also had a good collection of sculpture (besides the two works above). I’ll return to that in another post.

The Courtauld Gallery

After I’d been to see the Becoming Picasso exhibition, I took the opportunity to go round the gallery and look round the  Courtauld’s own collection. I had visited the gallery before, but that was over twenty years ago so it was a real treat to be able to look around.

The trouble with the big galleries in London is that they have so many paintings it is difficult to know where to start and looking round can be exhausting. But the Courtauld has a a relatively small collection – much more manageable and I felt I could stand and look at the pictures without feeling the need to rush on to something else like I often do when I have the rare opportunity to visit Tate Modern, The National Gallery etc..

Their collection includes works from the early Renaissance up to the 20th century, but is best known for it’s Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. It includes works by good range of artists – Manet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Morisot, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Cézanne. They don’t have many pictures by each of them but the ones they do of are of very high quality.

Where do I start? Well some of the ones I particularly liked were  a Modigliani portrait of a woman – very typical of his work,

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a couple of Matisse Fauvists paintings and paintings by other Fauvists, a Patrick Heron abstract, an absolutely beautiful, simple, wooden Single Form by Barbara (similar to one displayed in Leeds City Art Gallery),

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Single form 1937 by Barbara Hepworth

a room full of Degas’, three beautiful Gauguin’s,

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Te Rerioa (The dream) 1897 Gauguin

a Van Gogh self-portrait (minus ear),

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Jane Avril by Lautrec, a Morisot, Manet’s Folies-Bergère

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A Bar at the Folies-Bergère 1888 Édouard Manet

and a room full of outstanding Cezannes.

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The card players Paul Cézanne

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Montagne Sainte-Victoire (c. 1887) Paul Cézanne

And more.

I was breathless by the time I’d finished and went round again, at least once more! I don’t think I’ll be leaving it another 20 years before I pay another visit .