Nude with Coral Necklace, 1917
Signed upper right: Modigliani
Oil on canvas
26 3/16 x 39 13/16 in. (66.5 x 101.1 cm)1
Gift of Joseph and Enid Bissett, 1955
Among Modigliani's most powerful compositions are the more than two dozen female nudes he paintied between 1916 and 1919. The artist's distinctive grace and sensuality of line, and fluid elongation and abstraction of form, are here juxtaposed with realistic details that emphasize the eroticism of his subject. The figure is displayed boldly, without extraneous props or accessories to create a narrative or historical context.
Between 1916 and 1919, Modigliani produced twenty-six paintings of female nudes, arranged in both seated and reclining poses. There is considerable difficulty in establishing a sequence or chronology for these works, as various styles and techniques coexisted and overlapped during these last years of the artist's life.2 More than half of the nudes appear to date from 1917; the back of the Oberlin canvas is inscribed: "Modigliani./3 Joseph Bara./ Paris./ 1917."3 During the winter of 1916-17, Modigliani's patron and dealer, Léopold Zborowski, moved to an apartment at 3 rue Joseph Bara; there he offered the artist living and working space, furnished materials and models, and paid him about 300 francs a month for his entire output.4
Two other paintings from 1917 feature the same unknown model, who was undoubtedly hired by Zborowski to pose for the artist: the vertical Seated Nude with Necklace (Nu assis au collier), current location unknown;5 and the reclining Nude in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.6 The Guggenheim and Oberlin paintings are especially close in their shared debt to Titian's female nudes. While the former reflects the Giorgionesque Sleeping Venus in Dresden (ca. 1508; Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister), the pose and diagonal placement of the figure in Nude with Coral Necklace, as well as the relationship between figure and viewer, recall Titian's resplendent Venus of Urbino (1538; Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi).7
Despite such glancing historical references, however, Modigliani's nudes consciously renounce Western traditions of representing the female nude. Eschewing any of the mediating conventions of history, mythology, or anecdote embodied in localizing details of props or setting, Modigliani presents his languorously outstretched figures boldly, with only the barest suggestion of a "setting": a cushion, an expanse of cloth. The figures themselves are open and straightforward, rather than coy or provocative; detached studies of the objective beauty of the female body. Modigliani's uniformly dense, rough application of paint--particularly evident in the Oberlin work--is far removed from the sensual and tactile re-creation of flesh that characterizes traditional depictions of the female nude. In the majority of Modigliani's compositions, moreover (portraits as well as nudes), contact or exchange with the viewer is blunted by a masklike stylization of the face and blank, inwardly focused eyes; in the Oberlin painting, for example, one eye is shut and the other rendered opaque and pupil-less. The absence of setting, the figural distortions, and the focus on surface rather than illusion, combine to distance the nude figure from the viewer, tempering the blatant eroticism of the subject.
Indeed, the impact of Modigliani's nudes is based largely on his fine balance of the erotic and aesthetic: his figures are voluptuous but not indecent; sensual and individual, but also generalized. Figural distortions, such as the characteristic attenuation of the neck or torso, create a grand, precise rhythm and a harmony of elongated oval forms. The pure aesthetic contemplation of this simple, flowing abstraction of form is interrupted, however, by jarringly specific reminders of the real (a nipple, pubic hair, teeth) that insistently reiterate the erotic sensuality of the figure.8
In fact, it was this reductive focus on the nude female body, hovering midway between realism and abstraction, that was deemed so shocking by contemporary viewers. In December 1917, Modigliani's first (and only) one-man show, organized by his dealer Zborowski at the Galerie Berthe Weill in Paris, was closed by the police because the nudes exhibited there were found to be obscene. Four paintings of nudes were in the exhibition; it is not known if the Oberlin Nude with Coral Necklace was among them, although it seems quite likely, as the painting was owned by Zborowski at that time.9
M. E. Wieseman
Amedeo Modigliani was born in Livorno (Leghorn), Italy, in 1884. He began his study of painting in Livorno in 1898; after a hiatus necessitated by illness and a lengthy convalescence, he resumed his study at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence in 1902, followed by three years of study in Venice. Modigliani arrived in Paris in 1906 and was deeply influenced by the work of his contemporaries: Picasso's Blue Period paintings, and especially the late portraits of Cézanne. In 1909 Modigliani met the sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), who stimulated his sculptural ambitions. Over the next five years Modigliani produced about twenty-five sculptures, including a series of elongated stone heads showing the influence of African art, as well as Archaic Greek, Egyptian, and Khmer sculpture.
Modigliani's painted oeuvre consists almost exclusively of portraits and female nudes. His distinctive personal style coalesced in a series of honest, penetrating portraits of friends and colleagues executed between 1914 and 1916; sitters include the artists Juan Gris (1887-1927), Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973), Picasso, Diego Rivera, and Chaim Soutine (1893-1943); and the critics and dealers Paul Guillaume and Léopold Zborowski. From about 1916, Modigliani's style became highly mannered, with an increasingly exaggerated elongation of the neck and other bodily proportions. In 1916 Modigliani met Jeanne Hébuterne, with whom he lived until his death. Modigliani's health began to seriously decline in 1918; he died of tuberculosis, aggravated by drugs and alcohol, in January 1920.
Modigliani, Jeanne. Modigliani, Man and Myth. New York, 1958.
Ceroni, Ambrogio. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Modigliani. Paris, 1972.
Parisot, Christian. Modigliani Catalogue Raisonné: Peintures, Dessins, Aquarelles. 2 vols. Livorno, 1990.
Schmalenbach, Werner. Amedeo Modigliani, Paintings, Sculptures, Drawings. Munich, 1990.
Collection Léopold Zborowski, Paris
Collection Francis Carco, Paris
His sale, Paris (Hôtel Drouot), 2 March 1925, lot 64
Galerie Bing, Paris (1925)
Collection Félix Fénéon, Paris
His sale, Paris (Hôtel Drouot), 30 May 1947, lot 95
With Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Collection Joseph and Enid Bissett, New York (from 1950), by whom given in 1955
Paris, Galerie Bing, 1925. Modigliani. November. Cat. nos. 2, 11, 18, 30, or 31.10
Zurich, Kunsthaus, 1927. Italienische Maler. March - April. Cat. no. 99.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1951. Modigliani: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture. 30 January - 18 March (also shown at New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 11 April - 10 June). No number.
New York, Fine Arts Associates, 1954. Amedeo Modigliani. 25 October - 13 November. Cat. no. 10.
The Arts Club of Chicago, 1959. Amedeo Modigliani. 23 January - 28 February (also shown at The Milwaukee Art Center, and Cincinnati, Contemporary Arts Center). Cat. no. 16.
Atlanta Art Association, 1960. The Art of Amedeo Modigliani. 31 March - 17 April. Cat. no. 16.
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, 1963. Modigliani. 17 August - 16 September (also shown at London, Tate Gallery). Cat. no. 36.
New York, Perls Galleries, 1966. The Nudes of Modigliani. October - November. Cat. no. 3.
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1981. Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920. 26 March - 28 June. Cat. no. 46.
Carco, Francis. Le Nu dans la peinture moderne. Paris, 1924, pl. 19.
George, Waldemar. "Modigliani." L'Amour de l'Art 7 (1925), p. 388.
Pfannstiel, Arthur. Modigliani. Paris, 1929, p. 23.
Soby, James Thrall. In Modigliani: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture. Exh. cat., The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1951, p. 52.
Descargues, Pierre. Modigliani. Paris, 1951 and 1954, pls. 22-23.
Jedlicka, Gotthard. Modigliani. Erlenbach-Zurich, 1953, pl. 37.
Pfannstiel, Arthur. Modigliani et son oeuvre. Paris, 1956, p. 102, cat. no. 143.
Ceroni, Ambrogio. Amedeo Modigliani. Milan, 1958, p. 61, no. 119.
The Art of Modigliani. Exh. cat., Atlanta Art Association, 1960, cat. no. 16.
Russell, John. In Modigliani. Exh. cat., Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 1963, p. 19.
Werner, Alfred. "Nudest of Nudes." Arts Magazine 41, no. 1 (November 1966), p. 36.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, p. 109, fig. 126.
Spencer, John. "The Bissett Collection." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 26, no. 1 (Fall 1968), p. 5, ill. p. 9.
Lanthemann, Joseph. Modigliani 1884-1920: Catalogue raisonné, sa vie, son oeuvre complet, son art. Barcelona, 1970, no. 215.
Spencer, John R. "The University Museum: Accidental Past, Purposeful Future?" Art in America 59, no. 4 (July-August 1971), p. 87, ill.
Ceroni, Ambrogio. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Modigliani. Paris, 1972, p. 97, no. 185.
Rudenstine, Angelica Zander. The Guggenheim Museum Collection: Paintings 1880-1945. Vol. 2. New York, 1976, p. 530.
Marchesseau, Daniel, et al. Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920. Exh. cat., Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1981, pp. 89, 130, cat. no. 46.
Halperin, Joan U. Félix Fénéon: Aesthete and Anarchist in Fin-de Siècle Paris. New Haven, 1988, pp. 361, 363 ill.
Hobhouse, Janet. The Bride Stripped Bare: The Artist and the Nude in the Twentieth Century. London, 1988, p. 139 ill.
Ceroni, Angela. Modigliani: Les Nus. Düdingen/Guin, 1989, p. 60, cat. no. 12.
Parisot, Christian. Modigliani Catalogue Raisonné: Peintures, Dessins, Aquarelles. Vol. 2. Livorno, 1990, pp. 180, 318, cat. no. 44/1917.
Patani, Osvaldo. Amedeo Modigliani, Catalogo Generale, Dipinti. Milan, 1991, p. 209, cat. no. 199.
Stuckey, Charles F. French Painting. New York, 1991, p. 241.
Sotheby's New York. Sale catalogue, 10 May 1995, p. 54, ill. (erroneously captioned as in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York).
Krystof, D. Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920: The Poetry of Seeing. Cologne, 1996, p. 66.
The painting is in excellent condition. The original canvas, of inexpensive, coarsely woven linen and jute, was lined in 1960 and mounted on an ICA-type spring stretcher; at that time the dimensions of the canvas were enlarged slightly to fit more securely in the existing frame. Written in black paint on the back of the original canvas at upper left (now obscured by the lining fabric) is: Modigliani. / 3 Joseph Bara. / Paris. / 1917.11 A thin, dark grey ground was applied to the face of the canvas, apparently an oil paint. The paint surface has a markedly rough texture, with sharp ridges and points of impasto, suggesting that the paint may have been applied with a stippled touch instead of strokes. The dark grey ground is exposed between forms in the lower portion of the picture. In 1983, discolored varnish and overpaint (primarily in the area of the model's left wrist and belly) were removed, and minor losses (associated with a small puncture in the area of the model's wrist) were inpainted.
1. The vertical dimensions of the stretcher were increased by 7/16 in. (1.1 cm) when the painting was lined in 1960; the original height was 25 3/4 in. (64.4 cm). See Technical Data.
2. Compare the differing chronologies proposed by Pfannstiel, Lanthemann, Ceroni, Parisot, and Patani (see Literature).
3. An almost identical inscription also appeared on the reverse of the Nude now in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (inv. 41.535), prior to that picture having been lined in 1965. See Angelica Zander Rudenstine, The Guggenheim Museum Collection: Paintings 1880-1945, vol. 2 (New York, 1976), p. 530.
4. See Ambrogio Ceroni, Amedeo Modigliani (Milan, 1958), p. 25; and more recently, Marc Restellini, "La carrière d'un nouvel artiste dans un nouveau monde de l'art," in Les Peintres de Zborowski: Modigliani, Utrillo, Soutine et leurs amis (exh. cat., Fondation de l'Hermitage, Lausanne, 1994), esp. p. 27.
5. Oil on canvas, 91.5 x 59.7 cm, signed top right: Modigliani. Formerly in the collection of Mr. & Mrs. Ralph F. Colin; sold New York (Christie's), 10 May 1995, lot 24.
6. Oil on canvas, 73 x 116.7 cm, signed upper right: modigliani.
7. Modigliani is known to have studied paintings at the Uffizi during his student years in Florence, and to have been deeply impressed by Venetian art. See Pierre Sichel, Modigliani (New York and London, 1967), pp. 47, 56, 60; and Angelica Zander Rudenstine, The Guggenheim Museum Collection: Paintings 1880-1945, vol. 2 (New York, 1976), p. 530.
8. Janet Hobhouse, The Bride Stripped Bare: The Artist and the Nude in the Twentieth Century (London, 1988), p. 140.
9. The checklist of the exhibition lists four paintings titled only "Nu" (Nude): cat. nos. 17, 18, 30 and 31. See Angelica Zander Rudenstine, The Guggenheim Museum Collection: Paintings 1880-1945, vol. 2 (New York, 1976), p. 531. Berthe Weill's account of the episode is published in Pan!...dans l'oeil (Paris, 1933), pp. 227-29.
10. Nude with Coral Necklace is visible in an installation photograph (published in Ambrogio Ceroni, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Modigliani[Paris, 1972], p. 86); the checklist of the exhibition lists five works titled only "Nu" (Nude). See also note 9.
11. For a similar inscription on the reverse of the Nude in the Guggenheim Museum (inv. 41.535), see note 3 above.