Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920
N05269 Le Petit Paysan (The Little Peasant) c.1918
Inscribed 'Modigliani.' t.r. and 'le petit paysan' b.r.
Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 25 3/8 (100 x 65)
Presented by Miss Jenny Blaker in memory of Hugh Blaker 1941
Prov: Hugh Blaker, Isleworth-on-Thames (purchased from the artist through Léopold Zborowski, Paris, 1919); Jenny Blaker, Isleworth-on-Thames, 1936
Exh: French Art 1914-19, Mansard Gallery, London, August-September 1919 (41) as 'Little Peasant'; Pictures by Modern Artists, Mills' Hall, Dublin, January-February 1922 (no catalogue traced); on loan to the Tate Gallery 1927-39; Modigliani, Storran Gallery, London, April 1937 (8, repr.); Modern Italian Art, Tate Gallery, June-July 1950 (not in catalogue); Modigliani: Paintings and Drawings, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, January-February 1961 (15, repr.); Los Angeles County Museum, March-April 1961 (15, repr.); Modigliani, RSA, Edinburgh, August-September 1963 (39); Tate Gallery, September-November 1963 (39)
Lit: Arthur Pfannstiel, Modigliani (Paris 1929), appendix p.18, repr. facing p.30 (dated 1917); Nina Hamnett, Laughing Torso (London 1932), p.116; Arthur Pfannstiel, Modigliani et son Oeuvre (Paris 1956), No.121, p.92 (dated 1917); Ambrogio Ceroni, Amedeo Modigliani: Peintre (Milan 1958), No.104, p.59, repr. pl.104 (dated 1918); 'The Blaker Diary: some Extracts with a Memoir by Murray Urquhart' in Apollo, LXXVIII, 1963, pp.293-8, repr. p.298; J. Lanthemann, Modigliani 1884-1920: Catalogue Raisonné (Barcelona 1970), No.373, p.133, repr. p.258 (dated 1919); Leone Piccioni and Ambrogio Ceroni, I Dipinti di Modigliani (Milan 1970), No.257, p.101, repr. p.101 and pl.L in colour (dated 1918); Kenneth Clark, Another Part of the Wood (London 1974), pp.78-9
Repr: Burlington Magazine, XXXV, 1919, p.121; Colour, XI, December 1919, p.94 in colour
The same model posed for another painting of the same size in the Louvre which is sometimes known as 'The Young Apprentice' (Lanthemann No.372), in which he appears without a hat and with his left elbow resting on a table. There are also four other rather similar paintings of youths of about the same period (Lanthemann Nos.368-9, 378, 412), including two of a boy with red hair in similar poses: one, which is now in the Guggenheim Museum, New York, with his hands crossed in his lap (No.368), and the other, now owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, with his left elbow likewise on a table (No.369). The latter is inscribed 'Modigliani | Cagnes'.
Modigliani went to the South of France at the end of March or the beginning of April 1918 and apparently spent the first months, until at least July 1918, at Cagnes, and from then on mainly at Nice. He returned to Paris on 31 May 1919. Joseph Lanthemann has suggested (letter of 3 May 1976) that the present work was painted at Nice, on the basis that it appears to show the same room as several portraits of Jeanne Hébuterne (Lanthemann Nos.359-61) which he believes to have been painted there, but the possibility that it was done at Cagnes within a few weeks of the two portraits of the boy with red hair cannot be ruled out. It seems to date in any case from his stay in the South of France, which may partly account for its exceptionally Cézannesque character. Though Lanthemann dates it 1919, it does not have the extreme stylisation and elongation of Modigliani's late work and therefore seems more likely to have been painted in 1918.
Hugh Blaker, its first owner, recorded in his diary on 31 March 1932, after learning of Zborowski's death: 'I was a friend in 1919 when he hawked Modigliani in vain in London. My purchase alone enabled him to pay his rent of the first floor room. He brought over Modigliani stripped of stretchers and frames. He rolled them in bundles to dodge freightage. He laid them on the floor. I bought four of them. So far as I know, I was the only man in London to care a tuppenny damn about 'em.'
Zborowski's visit to London was made in connection with the exhibition French Art 1914-19 at the Mansard Gallery, which he helped to organise in association with Sir Osbert and Sir Sacheverell Sitwell. Sir Osbert's account of the exhibition in Laughter in the Next Room
(London 1949), pp.148-66 makes it clear that Modigliani's paintings, which had never been seen in England before, were not quite as unfavourably received as Hugh Blaker suggests; indeed pictures were also purchased by Arnold Bennett, by Sir Osbert and Sir Sacheverell Sitwell jointly, and by at least one other collector. 'The Little Peasant' was even reproduced in 1919 both in the Burlington Magazine and in the magazine Colour.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.529-31, reproduced p.529