Amedeo Modigliani’s artistic aura is often permeated by his pose of a flamboyant bohemian in the early 20th Century Parisian avant-garde scene. His erratic and drunken behavior is said to be used by the artist to mask his tubercular meningitis, which was the cause of his death at age 35. Surprisingly, such a tortured life could produce a rather serene body of work. His stylized interpretations of languid, melancholy women are his best-known artworks.
This portrait of a woman with a pink blouse was painted a few months before Modigliani’s demise, and acquired in 1923 by Jacques Doucet. When displayed in Paris in 1929, the painting was met with excellent reviews, being described as dazzling and as one of the master’s most beautiful artworks.
Because of his impulsive character, Modigliani wasn’t inclined to produce commissioned portraitures, hence his subjects were often friends and acquaintances. The model’s pose, hands crossed over her knees, resembles some portraits by Cézanne, for whose work Modigliani professed a profound admiration. The realistic depiction of the bedroom, with an iron bed and a painting hanging in the wall, also found in “Young Woman of the People” (1918), is all the most surprising since the artist usually privileged more abstract decorations. However, the painting owes its success to the radiance of the model’s blouse, which stands out amongst the muted colors employed in the rest of the composition.
Modigliani exalts the dissymmetry of the woman’s face, creating a stimulating plastic dimension through the accentuation of its edges. This is a product of his sculptural practice, which he had to abandon as the large and highly stylized stone heads he produced, with impossibly long noses and tiny pursed mouths, failed to attract buyers, forcing him to pursue painting and drawing. His designs were very influenced by the serenity of early Renaissance tombs and the mystically imbued tribal art, especially African masks.
The eyes of the model are well-drawn, destroying one of the myths surrounding his art, as it’s often said he wouldn’t paint the seaters’ pupils unless he could capture their soul. The artist usually painted from memory and the rapid brushwork, elongated face, and blank eyes would become his trademark. The diversity in textures and brushstrokes employed by Modigliani in this painting makes it all the most flavorful.