Modigliani's The Little Peasant

London – 28 November

‘You look out at the world with one eye and into yourself with the other’… a quote attributed to Amedeo Modigliani. Choosing to visit the ‘Modigliani’ blockbuster exhibition at Tate Modern did not disappoint and proved the veracity of this quotation in more ways than one. Modigliani was certainly a close observer of humankind, strongly favouring the female of the species; the almond – or, occasionally, piercing, blue eyes – of these models were themselves hypnotic to view.

Seeing the Little Peasant, c.1918, (a familiar exhibit on the walls of Tate Britain for as long as I can remember) exhibited here among the nude and portrait paintings, where the artist invariably employed really strong colours, was something of a shock. I think, as a teenager I had come to associate Modigliani simply with the washed out grey/blues of Le Petit Paysan!

The Tate website describes Modigliani’s sensuous and seductive nudes – twelve large paintings – as the highlight of the exhibition. (When first revealed to the world, in 1917, they would have been pretty shocking and rapidly led to police censorship). Personally I felt that the show’s pièce de résistance was, in fact, the room devoted to his superbly carved heads, all beautifully lit. I could have lingered here all afternoon. This relatively brief period of sculptural endeavour (1911-13), together with Modigliani’s ‘Caryatid’ drawings, owed much to the readily accessible visual references available to artists and sculptors in Paris at the time, primarily carved objects from Egypt, Cambodia and the Ivory Coast. Sadly the health issues which dogged him for much of his life were exacerbated by the dust from the stone that he was engaged in carving. It would have been fascinating to see how his work would have developed had he been able to continue with this aspect of his creative output.

Modigliani and his fellow Parisian artists, Soutine and Utrillo among others, were labelled ‘les peintres maudits’ – painters under a curse. Strong drink, drugs and sheer misfortune saw them all off at a relatively young age. Modigliani was only 35 when he succumbed to tubercular meningitis, the tragedy of a talented young life snuffed out compounded by the suicide of his pregnant fiancée and muse, Jeanne Hebuterne.

Those of our travelling members and friends who hiked across to Tate Modern were not disappointed. Others reported of equally enjoyable viewing experiences at the British Museum (Scythians), the National Gallery (Degas from the Burrell), the R.A.(Jasper Johns) and, over at Tate Britain, (Impressionists in London).

Bob Williams