The name Modigliani has come to be synonymous with the École de Paris and cultural life in Montparnasse in the second decade of the twentieth century. Born in Leghorn, Italy, into a prominent Sephardic family, Modigliani studied in Florence and Venice, before leaving for Paris in 1906. He resided in Montmartre, where he came into contact with Maurice Utrillo, Gino Severini, Max Jacob and the artists of the legendary Bateau Lavoir, before moving on to the newer quarter of Montparnasse in 1909. Around 1916, he made the acquaintance of the art dealer Paul Guillaume (see lot 6), and celebrated his first one-man exhibition at the Berthe Weill Gallery the following year.
By the time Picasso abandoned Montmartre for Montparnasse in 1912, the quarter had earned a reputation as the site of avant-garde artistic production and the center of cosmopolitan, bohemian culture in Paris. The contrast with Montmartre, as Kenneth Silver has remarked, was considerable:
Not even nostalgia would any longer bring serious
artists to the Butte, as Montmartre had familiarly
been called. In 1925 André Warnod wrote that "life
in Montparnasse was always cleaner and more brutal
than in Montmartre" and by that he was referring not
only to the physical aspects of the two quartiers--
Montparnasse with its new buildings and broad avenues
that contrasted so strikingly with the winding streets
and picturesque seediness of Montmartre--but also to
a change in time and attitude: The small, essentially
private, bohemian world of 19th-century art had given
way, or so it seemed, to the expansive but uncomfortably
public and unrelenting world of 20th century artistic
production. "[It's] pretty too, my left bank," wrote
André Salmon, "but much more built up than Montmartre.
Five bourgeois floors rose up above the Closerie des
Lilas...while, in order to reach the upper floors of the
Bateau Lavoir you had to go downstairs," he explained,
comparing the new, bourgeois apartment houses of the new
Left Bank with the jerry-built, hillside accommodations
of the Cubists. (K. E. Silver, "The Circle of
Montparnasse: Jewish Artists in Paris 1905-1945,"
The Circle of Montparnasse, New York, The Jewish
Museum, 1985, p. 18).
The Jewish artists of Montparnasse often gathered at the Café de la Rotonde, on the corner of the newly opened Boulevard Raspail and the Boulevard du Montparnasse (fig.1). Billy Klüver and Julie Martin have painted a colorful picture of the Rotonde:
Around 1910 Victor Libion bought the café and the
butcher shop next door and expanded and remodeled
the Rotonde. Libion welcomed the artists and created
an atmosphere where all kinds of artists, poets,
writers, and critics could feel at home. He subscribed
to foreign newspapers and let the artists sit for hours
over a 20-centime café-crème. For the poorer artists,
he accepted paintings in exchange for payment and looked
the other way when they took rolls from the bread-
basket. Thus the back room at the Rotonde became a
meeting place where all nationalities mixed freely with
eachother, something that up till then had not happened
in Montparnasse. (B. Klüver and J. Martin,
"Carrefour Vavin," Ibid., p. 70)
In addition to Chiam Soutine, Marc Chagall, Chana Orloff, Ossip Zadkine, Moïse Kisling, Jules Pascin, and Jacques Lipchitz, the café was also frequented by Picasso, André Salmon, Diego Rivera, Max Jacob, Maurice de Vlaminck and Fernand Léger. These luminaries of the circle of Montparnasse also constituted Modigliani's intimate circle of friends.
Modigliani's portraits form a kind of visual history of Left Bank culture during the war years. His sitters included: Max Jacob, the critic and art dealer Adolphe Basler, Paul Guillaume, Léon Indenbaum, the sculptor Chana Orloff, Chiam Soutine, the painter Pincus Krémegne, Henri Laurens (see lot 1), Constantin Brancusi, with whom he worked in 1911-12, Diego Rivera, Frank Haviland, Picasso, Jacques Lipchitz, Moïse Kisling, and the sculptor Oscar Miestchaninoff.
The son of a Jewish shopkeeper from Vitebsk, Miestchaninoff (1886-1956) briefly studied at the Odessa School of Fine Arts. Like Modigliani, he arrived in Paris in 1906, where he attended classes at the École des Arts Décoratifs and the École des Beaux-Arts. He maintained a studio in the Cité Falguière, where Modigliani lived sporadically between 1909 and 1919. Unlike his colleague, however, Miestchaninoff achieved a degree of professional success in the artistic circles of Montparnasse, and was quite comfortable. His friends included Diego Rivera, who in 1913 painted a memorable portrait of Miestchaninoff at work in his studio (fig.2), and Chaim Soutine, who likewise painted his portrait in 1923 (fig.3). Modigliani himself portrayed Miestchaninoff on two occasions, in this 1916 painting and in a delicate drawing of 1918 (fig.4) that owes a great deal to Picasso's classicizing drawings of the war years (for a related example by Juan Gris, see lot 1).
Modigliani's 1916 Portrait of Oscar Miestchaninoff is an elegant character study of a sympathetic friend. In contrast to the emotional turbulance of Soutine's anxious vision, or the vigor of Rivera's image, with its Simultaneist treatment of the legs, its spatial compression, and its intense facial expression, Modigliani's portrait has an awkward grace and composure. In a pose that recalls Ingres's Monsieur Bertin (Musée du Louvre, Paris) and its contemporary incarnation in Picasso's 1906 Portrait of Gertrude Stein (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Modigliani depicts his subject seated, his hands firmly planted on his lap. In contrast to his predecessors, however, Modigliani views the sitter frontally, pushing Miestchaninoff's body close to the foreground plane and aligning him with the vertical and horizontal axes of the picture. The heiratic presence of the sitter is relieved by the slight tilting of the head and neck, and the subtle torsion of the shoulders and hips. The positioning of the hands suggests both confidence and a casual awkwardness on the part of the sitter.
With his characteristic economy of means, Modigliani has succeeded in producing an image of considerable psychological depth. The stylization of the face, with its linear rhythms and Italianate elegance, contrasts with Modigliani's careful attention to physiognomic detail: the irregular, almond shaped eyes; the bent, bulbous nose; the raised eyebrows and pursed lips; the double chin, protruding ears and high forehead; and most remarkable of all, the rosy cheeks that transform the sitter's mask-like features into living flesh. With a clarity and linear grace that bear affinities with African art and the broad planes and incised details of Byzantine mosaics and Romanesque sculpture, as well as Modigliani's own experiments in carving stone, the effect of the portrait is at once direct, unpretentious, and subtly disturbing. James Thrall Soby admirably described the impact of Modigliani's portraiture:
In his intensity of individual characterization, Modigliani
holds a fairly solitary place in his epoch. One senses in
his finest pictures a unique and forceful impact from the
sitter, an atmosphere of special circumstance, not to
recur. But he was far from being simply a realist. On the
contrary, he solved repeatedly one of modern portraiture's
most difficult problems: how to express objective truth in
terms of the artist's private compulsion. The vigor of his
style burns away over-localized fact. Indeed, his figures
at times have the fascination of ventriloquists' dummies.
They are believable and wholly in character, yet they
would be limp and unimaginable without his guiding animation.
(J. T. Soby, Modigliani: Paintings, Drawings,
Sculpture, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1951, p. 10).
Despite his celebrity among the artists and poets of Montparnasse, admired for his talent, great physical beauty and generosity, Modigliani remained a marginal figure, impoverished and little known outside his immediate circle of friends. His health, which had always been precarious (he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in his youth), was aggravated by the consumption of alcohol, ether and hashish. It was only after his untimely death at the age of thirty-six that Modigliani's work began to garner wide critical acclaim in France and abroad.
(fig. 1) Modigliani and Adolphe Basler, circa 1914 (Viollet)
(fig. 2) Diego Rivera, Retrato de Oscar Miestchaninoff, el escultor, 1913, Property of the State of Veracruz
(fig. 3) Chaim Soutine, Portrait de Oscar Miestchaninoff, 1923-24, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
(fig. 4) Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait de Oscar Miestchaninoff, 1918, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)
Signed top left 'Modigliani.' and dated bottom right '1916.'--oil on canvas
Signed top left 'Modigliani.' and dated bottom right '1916.'--oil on canvas
Cleveland, Museum of Art, Modigliani: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, Jan.-March, 1951, no. 51 (illustrated, p. 32). The exhibition traveled to New York, The Museum of Modern Art,
Paris, Galerie Max Kaganovitch, Oeuvres Choisies du XXe Siècle, May-June, 1962, no. 46
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, Modigliani, Aug.-Sept., 1963, no. 19 (illustrated, pl. 12). The exhibition traveled to London, The Tate Gallery, Sept.-Nov., 1963.
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris - Moscou - 1900 - 1930, May-Nov., 1979, no. 164
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920, March-June, 1981, no. 40 (illustrated in color, p. 125)
Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Austellung Amedeo Modigliani, Jan.-April, 1991, p. 223, no. 44 (illustrated). The exhibition traveled to Zurich, Kunsthaus, April-July, 1991.
Lausanne, Fondation de L'Hérmitage, Modigliani, Utrillo, Soutine, Les peintres de Zborowski et leurs amis, June-Oct., 1994, p. 163, no. 5 (illustrated in color)
31 7/8 x 23 5/8 in. (81 x 60 cm.)
M. Raynal, Modigliani, New York, 1951, pl. 3 (illustrated in color)
J. T. Soby, Modigliani, New York, 1954, p. 36 (illustrated)
A. Pfannstiel, Modigliani et son oeuvre, Paris, 1956, p. 89, no. 110
B. Borchert, Modigliani, London, 1960, p. 8 (illustrated in
color, p. 9)
Sotheby's 217th Season 1960-1961, London, 1961 (illustrated in color, p. 193)
J. Russell, Modigliani, London, 1963, (illustrated, pl. 12)
A. Ceroni, Amedeo Modigliani: Dessins et Sculptures, Milan, 1965, p. 43, no. 181 (illustrated)
J. Lanthemann, Modigliani 1884-1920, Catalogue Raisonné, Barcelona, 1970, p. 115, no. 115 (illustrated, p. 189)
L. Piccioni, I Dipinti di Modigliani, Milan, 1970, p. 95, no. 153 (illustrated)
A. Ceroni, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Modigliani, Paris, 1972, no. 153 (illustrated, p. 95)
J. T. Soby, Modigliani, New York, 1972, p. 32
C. Roy, Modigliani, New York, 1985, p. 94 (illustrated)
T. Castieau-Barrielle, La vie et l'oeuvre de Amedeo Modigliani, Paris, 1987 (illustrated, p. 114)
W. Schmalenbach, Amedeo Modigliani, Paintings, Sculptures, Drawings, Munich, 1990, p. 223, no. 42 (illustrated in color)
C. Parisot, Modigliani, Catalogue Raisonné, Peintures, Dessins, Aquarelles, Livorno, 1991, vol. II, p. 296, no. 22/1916 (illustrated in color, p. 122)
O. Patani, Amedeo Modigliani, Catalogo Generale, Dipinti, Milan, 1991, p. 169, no. 156 (illustrated)
César de Hauke, Paris
Jacques Sarlie, New York; sale, Sotheby & Co., London, Oct. 12, 1960, lot 44 (illustrated in color)
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner