Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse

Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse

February 9, 2003 to May 25, 2003

The Kimbell Art Museum presented the first major exhibition in the United States in more than 40 years on the early modern painter Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920). Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse was on view from February 9 to May 25, 2003.

The exhibition featured approximately 60 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by Modigliani as well as 22 works by his contemporaries who lived and worked in the Montparnasse area of Paris, including Constantin Brancusi, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Chaim Soutine. Works from museums and private collections across America, Europe, and Japan were on view, including many works that had never before been seen in the United States.

Taking place nearly a century after Modigliani first arrived in Paris in 1906, this exhibition celebrated Modigliani and the extraordinary circle of fellow artists, critics, dealers, collectors, writers, and musicians who gathered in Paris during the first decades of the 20th century. These figures––from Picasso and Giorgio de Chirico to Diego Rivera and Henri Rousseau––are responsible for launching the diverse manifestations of the modern movement in European art. Modigliani’s unique artistic vision is intricately tied to his relationships and friendships within this particular group of individuals.

Commented Dr. Timothy Potts, director of the Kimbell Art Museum: “In the eyes of posterity, Modigliani has been almost too interesting for his own good. The romantic idea of the magnificently handsome bohemian who dies young has tended to distract attention from his enormous achievements as an artist. This exhibition brings his art to the fore––the beautifully composed and sympathetic paintings, as well as the less well-known ventures into sculpture. The presence of works by his friends and neighbors in Montparnasse gives a sense of the artistic community within which he flourished, and his stature among the best of the Parisian avant-garde.”

Modigliani is best known for his elegantly stylized depiction of the human figure, his studies of women with elongated necks and soulful eyes, and his sensitive female nudes. His inspiration came from a variety of Western and non-Western sources including African and Oceanic art, Symbolism, Fauvism, and Cubism. He made a major contribution to modern sculpture, as well as painting, producing carved stone heads that were influenced by African masks, Egyptian art, medieval sculpture, and Michelangelo. Modigliani took traditional subjects in art history and modernized them, underscoring their enduring appeal. Like other avant-garde artists, he avoided naturalism in favor of a more imaginative and creative approach.

Modigliani was born into a Jewish family in the cosmopolitan port town of Livorno, Italy, near Pisa. He moved to Paris in 1906 and became a central figure of the Parisian avant-garde. Like many artists, Modigliani settled in the district known as Montparnasse and was part of what Marcel Duchamp described as “the first truly international group of artists we ever had.” Modigliani was the quintessential artist of Montparnasse, that tiny area––about a mile square––which seemed magically to transform those who moved there. Artists such as Brancusi and Jacques Lipchitz saw their style mature quickly and inevitably towards modernism upon their arrival. The exhibition showed how Modigliani’s art and life epitomize the diverse, multicultural artistic approach that developed in Montparnasse at the beginning of the 20th century.

A free special lecture on Modigliani was presented on Saturday, February 8, 2003, by Dr. Kenneth Wayne, Albright-Knox Art Gallery curator, and curator of the exhibition. The lecture took place at 10:30 a.m. at the Darnell Street auditorium, across Darnell Street from the Kimbell Art Museum. Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse was organized by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, in collaboration with the Kimbell Art Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It premiered in Buffalo in October 2002, and concluded its national tour in Los Angeles June 29–September 28, 2003, following its presentation at the Kimbell.

The exhibition was supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities and, in part, by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. A fully illustrated catalogue of the exhibition was published by Harry N. Abrams, in association with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Promotional support for this exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum was provided by American Airlines and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Caption: Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of a Woman (detail), c. 1917–18, oil on canvas. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1951.358