In 1916, Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) had been commissioned by his dealer Zborowski to paint a series of nudes. The artist moved into his dealer’s apartment in Montparnasse, where he painted models supplied and paid for by Zborowski, for 15-20 francs per day. This helped finance Modigliani’s deepening addiction to alcohol and drugs.
His drawing of a Seated Female Nude from about 1917 shows the same fair curves which he’d used earlier to construct the figures of his caryatids, prior to the Great War.
Female Nude Reclining on a White Pillow (c 1917) is probably one of the series which Modigliani painted for Zborowski in the latter’s apartment. She has a decidedly languid look on her face as she lies back and relaxes.
This Reclining Nude from 1917 appears more post-coital.
Nude on a Blue Cushion from 1917 is probably from the same commissioned series too.
In April 1917, Modigliani was introduced to a beautiful young student at the Académie Colarossi, Jeanne Hébuterne, and they moved in together in an apartment in Montparnasse. On 3 December, at least seven of the thirty paintings of nude women which he had completed for Zborowski featured in an exhibition in the Berthe Weill Gallery. But on its opening day, it was shut down by the police on grounds of the indecency of several of the paintings on display in the gallery’s windows. It appears to have resumed after those had been removed, and continued to be controversial with both critics and the public.
The following year, the threat of German invasion had grown to the point where Modigliani and Jeanne Hébuterne left Paris for the Mediterranean coast, where they lived in Nice and Cagnes-sur-Mer. The artist continued painting portraits, which he sent to Zborowski in Paris for sale.
This Boy in Short Pants from 1918 was probably painted when Modigliani was in Nice. Initially, he tried selling these portraits to wealthy tourists, but was only able to get a few francs for them, so sent them to Paris in the hope that Zborowski might get better prices.
Portrait of Mme Zborowska from 1918 is one of his most styled figurative paintings, in which the model’s neck is as long as her elongated head.
Several of these late works show his partner, including this Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne, Seated from 1918.
Young Woman in a Shirt (1918) shows other distinctive stylistic features, including the head cocked to one side, and the lack of detail in the eyes, which leaves them looking slightly unearthly.
In late 1918, while still in Nice, Jeanne Hébuterne gave birth to their first child, a girl. Shortly after that, some more of Modigliani’s paintings were exhibited in Paris.
When he was in the Midi, Modigliani painted a few landscapes including Cypresses and Houses at Cagnes, which he completed in 1919, the year that Renoir died in his house nearby.
The following year started with success: his dealer Zborowski arranged for several of Modigliani’s paintings to be shown in London, where they at last began to gain interest from British collectors. He planned a trip to Italy, but by the end of the year Modigliani’s health was deteriorating rapidly, and those plans were cancelled.
Elvira Resting at a Table from 1919 shows one of his favourite models, apart from his partner Jeanne. Elvira’s surname isn’t known, but she is thought to have been a working class woman, and appears both nude and clothed.
In Modigliani’s Girl with a Polka-Dot Blouse (1919), the artist follows the practice of the Nabis of depicting patterned clothing without projecting the pattern in three dimensions, giving it a flattened and more decorative appearance.
This late Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne from 1919 exaggerates the angle at which her head is held by countering that with the angle of her neck. The length of her neck is also exaggerated by the roll-neck top she is wearing. Hébuterne’s parents were conservative Catholics, who understandably were very concerned at Modigliani’s reputation for consumption of alcohol and drugs, and his extremely bohemian lifestyle. The artist committed himself in writing to marry Hébuterne, but her parents resisted, and the issue was soon overtaken by events.
By the start of 1920, Modigliani was in a very bad way, and he died from tuberculous meningitis on 24 January. Jeanne Hébuterne was distraught: their daughter was only just over one year old, and she was pregnant again. Two days after Modigliani had died, she threw herself from a fifth-floor window and died, together with her unborn child. Modigliani was thirty-five, and Hébuterne was only twenty-one.