I’d not heard of this artist before I saw the feature in my What’s on guide for Tate, but I was interested to see the nudes he painted.
Modigliano had a turbulent life, moving to Paris from his native Italy when he was 21 and living in Montmartre from 1906 to 1909, and then Montparnasse, developing friendships and alliances from the artists also living in the cultural centres of Paris at that time. He focussed on sculpture from 1911 to 1913, and his drawings have a sculptural, pared-down quality which reflect the museum pieces of Egyptian and African art which would have been on display at the Louvre and Trocadero. Like Giacometti, who studied the art of the Easter Islands and Eygpt, elongated necks and facial features were influenced by these exotic artistic resources.
A few (sadly only a few) of his drawings are on display in this exhibition but I particularly liked these two:
By 1916, Modigliani was in receipt of financial support from an art dealer named Leopold Zborowski, and at this time, the artist had returned to painting; specifically the female nude. Scandalous at the time due to the models being painted possessing pubic hair, the paintings also show a sultriness and sensuality.
What interested me was the artist’s skill at depicting the soft rounded features of the female form with so little tonal variation. The breasts and belly show very little by way of graduation yet they are undeniably voluptuous. As I am not brilliant at using tone I was really pleased to see how effective this is and I love the paintings. The strong backgrounds were also really useful for me to see as I always struggle to ground my figures during life drawing class and the sweeps of colour really help the figure to be in a space. I like the simplicity and the lack of fuss. His faces are drawn quite elongated and stylised, and the hands and feet, when they appear, are also very loosely interpreted; on one painting her foreshortened foot looks like a paw…
I sat on a bench in the gallery and had a go at painting a couple of the nudes in watercolour:
I bought some postcards:
The oil paintings themselves have such a richness and depth, and are large – over a metre long – and really pack a punch. I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and was keen to use what I’d seen at life drawing class later that evening.
I tried some watercolour washes around the figure of Manko, our model, and found it really made the body stand out. I used ochre watercolour and a raw sienna Promarker, as well as a warm earth tone drawing pencil:
It was brilliant to try something different and although I couldn’t translate the colours from Modigliani I think the washes are effective and definitely stop the drawing from floating in space. As with his first drawing, just a slosh of colour down one side really adds something to the ‘finished’ (it’s just a hasty sketch!) piece and something I will use again.
Tate. (23 Nov- 2 Apr 2018) Modigliani. London: Tate Modern