About this

Object details

Seated Nude
114,5 × 71,5 cm
Inventory number: 
upper right: modigliani

More about this work

In the years 1916-1919 Modigliani made a series of distinctive nude portraits at the request of his good friend, patron and art dealer Leopold Zborowski. He painted both professional models and prostitutes, whose gaze is fixed on their lustful maker-cum-viewer. Starting in 1917 his muse Jeanne Hébuterne posed as the model on many occasions. Modigliani’s portraits show ladies reclining in explicitly erotic poses, or seated, slightly more timid and covered, like this Sitting nude. This lady is making her toilet, as the towel and basin suggest. Her warm, orange-pink body is the only illuminated object set against dark expanses of ochre paint.

Modigliani’s talent lies in his skill in capturing the essence of the sitter with a personal and always recognisable visual idiom. His iconic paintings are first and foremost ‘a Modigliani’, and only then a portrait or a nude. His work is typified by elongated and simplified forms: a long neck like a column, an oval head, a long nose, a small mouth with lips pressed together, and an empty gaze in two almond-shaped eyes that enhance the model’s mystery. Stylistically, Sitting nude is a slightly restrained portrait of a woman with a shorter neck, a head not as oval, and so on. When the Belgian government bought it in 1926, the influential modern journal Sélection observed critically: ‘Not exactly one of the most successful works by Modigliani,... but anyway always better than no Modigiani at all’.

Modigliani’s figures have a sort of formal, curvilinear elegance that recalls the nudes of the Italian Renaissance. His experiments with sculpture gave his painted portraits a certain monumentality, as in the work of Henri Matisse. ‘African art haunted him, while Picasso’s art pained him.... His curiosity focused on the forms of ancient Greek and Khmer sculptures, known to sculptors and painters’, wrote the gallerist Adolphe Baslr, who knew Modigliania personally.

Modigliani’s paintings lie midway between tradition and modernity. Although Cubism in contemporary Paris was inescapable, as far as he too was concerned, he never entirely ignored the classical ideas of beauty. In Paris he also absorbed specific aspects of fin de siècle art. For example, his paintings display affinities with the smoothed graphic style of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the ethereal figuration and expressive brushwork of Edvard Munch, and the synthesis and geometrical shapes of Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin. All were popular with the colonies of young artists in Montmartre and Montparnasse, which is where Modigliani lived and worked.

Together with Vincent van Gogh, Modigliani is probably the most mythologised of modern artists. Even more than his early death and problems with drink and drugs, Modigliani’s eternal nude and the sexuality and attendant aura of being a Don Juan were the most intriguing ingredients of a life story that has taken on legendary proportions and gave rise to forgeries very soon after his death.

Acquisition history

loan from: Belgische overheid, 1927

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