It was into this artistic inferno that Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani arrived in 1906. It was also here that he was to transform himself and come to personify the character of the derelict artist, a prince of vagabonds, leading a life full of vice and establishing an artistic legend second only to that of Van Gogh.
Originally from Italy, Modigliani was a classically trained artist. There, he had trained under local masters like Guglielmo Micheli and this classic training had given him an academic approach to painting and art. Being also of a family that had previously been more well-to-do, Modigliani initially gave a dapper appearance. Indeed, upon seeing Picasso during this time, he noted that even though he considered the man to be a genius, that was no excuse for such an appearance.
However, already within his first year in Paris, Modigliani changed immensely. He went from being the well-organized academic artist and transformed himself into a sort of vagabond artist. The change was complete with a delinquent wardrobe, drug use and alcoholic use. Among his favorite alcohol was absinthe, which has to art historians become the signature drink of the artists of the era. The main driver of this honor was most definitely Modigliani. However, he not only became a substance abuser. He started having frequent affairs and when sufficiently drunk displayed behavior like getting undressed at social gatherings. His behavior was so extreme that it stood clearly out, even in these bohemian surroundings, and he became the symbol of the derelicts artist during his stay in Paris, Modigliani by artists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
After his first year in Paris, he fascination moved to artists like Paul Cézanne. However, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, Modigliani went on to create his own unique style, a style that can scarcely be compared to that of other artists. Modigliani went on to have his only solo show in Paris in 1917. However, due to the scandalous nudes contained in the exhibition, the chief of Paris police closed down the exhibition within a few hours. This was the only solo exhibition by Modigliani.
As time progressed, the exhaustive lifestyle of Modigliani also took its toll. His health deteriorated in in 1920 Amedeo Modigliani died of tubercular meningitis. He was broke at the time of his death, with only one solo exhibition in his career and having at times exchanged his art for meals. However, he was locally popular and his funeral was attended by a huge crowd, including the Paris artistic community. After his death, a number of young artists tried to emulate his path to mastery through the use of drugs and alcohol. It was considered that it was these influenced that had helped Modigliani create his unique style. However, following his path mostly had the effect of creating more dissolute artists in bohemian Paris.
However, Modigliani’s legend grew and so did the appreciation of his work. At this time, 9 novels, 3 movies and a documentary has been made about his life. A biography was also written by his daughter named “Modigliani: Man and Myth”. In 2010, Modigliani’s “La Belle Romaine”, a nude such as those not allowed to be exhibited by the Paris police less than 100 years before, was sold on auction in New York for USD 68.9 million, making Modigliani among the top most expensive artists ever traded. The man behind the vagabond artist myth has indeed arrived for his day in the sun.
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