Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)

Tête de Jeune Fille (Louise)

Amedeo Modigliani, Tête de Jeune Fille (Louise), 1915, Oil on panel, Collection Triton FoundationAmedeo Modigliani, an Italian Jew of Sephardic ancestry, was born into a sophisticated bourgeois milieu in Livorno, where he received his earliest artistic education. In 1906 he left his homeland for Paris, where he enrolled at the renowned Académie Colarossi. His early work shows the influence of the Fauves, as well of as  Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne, and Picasso, but it failed to impress the public and went unsold.

Modigliani's health, already impaired by tuberculosis, was undermined by the difficulties of life in Montmartre, in combination with poverty, alcohol, and drugs. Feeling misunderstood, he decided to devote himself entirely to sculpture. In 1909 Modigliani moved to Montparnasse, where he became acquainted with the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi and the Polish sculptor Elie Nadelman. Inspired by their work and by the contemporary craze for African folk art, Modigliani made around twenty-five sculptures and countless preliminary studies between 1909 and 1913. His lack of money forced him to move frequently, and he briefly stayed in La Ruche during this period. There he met Moïse Kisling, Ossip Zadkine, and Chaim Soutine, who became a lifelong friend.

In 1913, Modigliani decided to once again devote himself entirely to painting. He developed a stylized approach to portraiture that merged influences from the fourteenth-century Italian primitives, the academic style of the 19th century, and ethnographic art with his own unique response to the range of modern movements in Paris. The direct style of Tête de Jeune Fille (Louise) (Portrait of a Young Girl La Petite (Louise)), painted in 1915, is characteristic of this period in Modigliani's development. The mask-like expression of the face and the long, thin neck are reminiscent of his earlier sculptures, while the subtle diagonal slant of the face breaks the rigidity of the composition. The work takes its name from another, larger portrait of the same girl. Above her head, in decorative script, is La Petite Louise, with the word Montmartre at lower left. This was probably a waitress from one of the many cafés frequented by the artist. This work is one of the more than 200 portraits that Modigliani painted between 1914 and his death in 1920. He not only worked with professional models but also painted his mistresses, art dealers, friends, and fellow artists, producing at least four portraits of Chaim Soutine.

Modigliani did not achieve much commercial success during his lifetime. His first solo exhibition in Paris was not until 1917, and the nudes that he displayed there created a scandal. By then his health was deteriorating, and in January 1920, Amedeo Modigliani died of complications resulting from tuberculosis.