Following the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) largely abandoned sculpture and returned to painting portraits. He had tried to enlist in the army, but was declared unfit for military service because of his tuberculosis, the disease which was causing his health to deteriorate.
This portrait of the young and aspiring art dealer Paul Guillaume was painted early during the war years, in September 1915 when Guillaume (1891-1934) would only have been about twenty-four. He was one of the few dealers in Paris who seemed prepared to promote avant garde artists like Modigliani and Chaim Soutine.
Lola de Valence (1915) isn’t a portrait of a contemporary figure, but refers to Édouard Manet’s full-length painting of the famous Spanish dancer, which he completed in 1862, only to be rejected by the Salon jury. Its appearance is nothing like the figure in that earlier painting, but more closely resembles Modigliani’s previous sculptured heads, exaggerated vertically with a very long neck, apparently inspired by masks from the French Congo.
Madame de Pompadour (1915) is another historical figure, here Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, the Marquise de Pompadour and official chief mistress of Louis XV between 1745-51. Behind her is what could be an African mask.
Among the fellow artists whom Modigliani painted in 1915 was Juan Gris (1887–1927), at the time a renowned Cubist who was then painting in Synthetic Cubist style, using bright colours and collage.
Probably the most famous of these, and of his subjects, is this Portrait of Picasso, painted in about 1915.
Portrait of Leopold Zborowski from 1916 shows another young and aspiring art dealer, who was also a poet and writer. During Modigliani’s final years, he was his primary dealer, a close friend, and provided him with a studio. Zborowski (1889-1932) also dealt with Chaim Soutine, Maurice Utrillo, Marc Chagall and André Derain, and from sale of their works amassed large profits which he lost again during the depression in the early 1930s. He died in poverty in Paris from a heart attack at the ago of only forty-three.
Modigliani’s double portrait of Jacques and Berthe Lipchitz from 1916 shows this Cubist sculptor and his wife, who is seated beside him. Lipchitz (1891-1973) started to exhibit in 1912, and attained fame in the 1920s when he was commissioned by the Barnes Foundation in the US to produce seven bas reliefs and two sculptures. He fled France during the Second World War, and settled in the USA.
From 1915-16, Modigliani lived with the British writer Emily Alice Haigh (1879-1943), known by one of her pen names as Beatrice Hastings, and shown in this portrait (above) of Beatrice from 1916. They lived together in Hastings’ apartment in Montmartre, and she posed for some of his nude drawings and paintings, including Seated Nude (below). Hastings led a colourful life, and prior to moving to Paris just before the Great War, she had been the concurrent lover of both Alfred Orage, her editor at the time, and the writer Katherine Mansfield.
In 1916, his dealer Zborowski commissioned Modigliani to paint nude models that he supplied, using his apartment as a studio. As Modigliani had just broken up with Beatrice Hastings, he moved into that apartment in Montparnasse. Among these works is this Nude on a Sofa thought to show a woman named Almalisa, which he completed in 1916. Zborowski paid the models, provided materials, and paid the artist 15-20 francs per day, which helped finance Modigliani’s deepening addiction to alcohol and drugs. In 1917, these paintings of nudes were to be exhibited, and made Modigliani famous.