Amedeo Modigliani



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Amedeo Modigliani 1884–1920
Original title
Object: 892 × 140 × 352 mm, 41 kg
Transferred from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1983

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This is one of a series of radically simplified heads with elongated faces and stylised features that Modigliani made between 1911 and 1913. He was inspired by art from countries such as Cambodia, Egypt and Ivory Coast, which he saw in Paris’s ethnography museum. His patron Paul Alexandre recalled how Modigliani worked in this period: ‘When a figure haunted his mind, he would draw feverishly with unbelievable speed… He sculpted the same way. He drew for a long time, then he attacked the block directly.’

Gallery label, January 2019

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Catalogue entry

Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920

V.&A. LOAN [transferred to Tate Gallery 1983: T03760] Head c.1911-12

Inscribed 'MODI | GLIANI' on back of base
Euville stone, 25 x 5 x 13 7/8 (63.5 x 12.5 x 35) on stone base; height including base 34 7/8 (88.7)
Presented by Henry Harris to the Victoria and Albert Museum 1922; on loan since 1952
Prov: Mr and Mrs Edward Roworth, Cape Town (purchased from the artist 1914); Mrs Cecil Warren-Jones, London; Henry Harris, London, 1922
Exh: Salon d'Automne, Paris, October-November 1912 (one of 1211-17, all entitled 'Tête, ensemble décoratif'); Twentieth Century Art, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, May-June 1914 (287), lent by Edward Roworth; XVII Biennale, Venice, April-October 1930 (Modigliani 40); 40,000 Years of Modern Art, ICA, Academy Hall, London, December 1948-January 1949 (183); VI Quadriennale Nazionale d'Arte di Roma, Rome, December 1951-May 1952 (24); Les Sources du XXe Siècle, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, November 1960-January 1961 (463); Pioneers of Modern Sculpture, Hayward Gallery, London, July-September 1973 (155, repr.)
Lit: Jacob Epstein and Arnold L. Haskell, The Sculptor speaks (London 1931), pp.132-3; Nina Hamnett, Laughing Torso (London 1932), p.50; Jacob Epstein, Let there be Sculpture (London 1940), p.61; Charles Douglas, Artist Quarter (London 1941), pp.213-14; Jacques Lipchitz, 'I remember Modigliani' in Art News, XLIX, February 1951, p.28; Augustus John, Chiaroscuro (London 1952), p.131; Jacques Lipchitz, Amedeo Modigliani (New York 1953), p.2; Sir Leigh Ashton, 'Sculpture' in The New Outline of Modern Knowledge, ed. A. Pryce-Jones (London 1956), p.307; Alfred Werner, Modigliani the Sculptor (London 1965), p.28, repr. pls.32-3; Ambrogio Ceroni, Amedeo Modigliani: Dessins et Sculptures (Milan 1965), Sculpture No.24, p.26, repr. pls.100-1 (dated 1911-12); J. Lanthemann, Modigliani 1884-1920: Catalogue Raisonné (Barcelona 1970), No.622, p.142, repr. p.314 (dated 1911)
Repr: Stanley Casson, Some Modern Sculptors (London 1928), pl.33

While at the Victoria and Albert Museum, this head was known as 'Head for the Top of a Door Jamb', a title devised by Eric MacLagan who thought that it was intended to decorate the upper part of the jamb of a door with the lintel resting upon it. Modigliani's idea seems, however, to have been rather different.

Jacques Lipchitz recalled that when he first visited Modigliani's studio at the Cité Falguière in the spring or summer of 1913 there were a few heads in stone - maybe five - standing on the cement floor of the court in front of his studio. He was adjusting them one to the other. 'I see him as if it were today, stooping over those heads of his, explaining to me that he had conceived all of them as an ensemble. It seems to me that these heads were exhibited later the same year in the Salon d'Automne, arranged in step-wise fashion like the tubes of an organ'. Though he was evidently mistaken about the year - there were no works by Modigliani in the Salon catalogue of 1913 - the Salon d'Automne of 1912 included seven sculptured heads (1211-17), each listed as 'Head (decorative ensemble)'.

At least twenty-three stone carvings of heads by Modigliani are known, all of which seem to have been executed within the period 1910-14 approximately. This particular head is similar in style to five which were photographed in the studio of his friend Amadeo de Souza Cardoso, probably at the time of a small exhibition of sculptures and gouaches which Modigliani held there in 1911. Several of them have very long, narrow noses of the same type. It is particularly close to the photograph reproduced as Lanthemann No.629 (probably an unfinished state of the sculpture now in the National Gallery, Washington) and could be regarded as a slightly later, more refined and more extreme treatment of the same idea. An article on the Salon d'Automne of 1912 in La Vie Parisienne, 5 October 1912, p.713 includes drawings of two of the heads from the 'decorative ensemble', which seem to be Lanthemann No.629 and the present work. There are slight differences from the present sculpture in its finished state in that, for instance, the left side of the head (the spectator's right) appears to be flat, whereas it is now rough and striated to suggest hair; but these differences may be due either to the summary character of the drawing or to the fact that the sculpture was afterwards slightly reworked.

According to Nina Hamnett, the break in the nose was caused by Modigliani himself, who bumped into it and knocked it over. It was already broken by the time she first saw it in his studio in 1913 or 1914.

Published in:
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.526-7, reproduced p.526

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