THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Executed in 1913, Cariatide is a rare example of Amedeo Modigliani’s painterly practice during this early period of his artistic career, in which he focused primarily on sculpture. One of only a handful of oil paintings which explore the form of a sculpted caryatid, the present work illustrates the complex working process that lay behind each of the artist’s three-dimensional projects in stone. Creating countless drawings and sketches before ever taking his hammer to a block, these studies offered Modigliani a forum in which to experiment and visualise the ideas that swirled around his head, before translating them into sculptural form. In its fusion of these two strands, sculpture and painting, Cariatide stands as an intriguing crossover work, straddling the boundary between Modigliani’s two principal creative impulses, revealing intimate details about both in the process.
Modigliani had begun experimenting with sculpture in 1909, shortly after he moved from his home in Montmartre to the thriving artistic hub of Montparnasse. Taking up residence in the warren of studios known as Cité Falguiere, Modigliani entered a new phase of creativity, moving away from the Symbolist-inspired paintings and drawings reminiscent of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec that had previously dominated his art, and instead shifting towards a new, idiosyncratic style of his own. According to the German critic Curt Stoermer, who had met Modigliani in 1909, the artist ‘felt destined to be a sculptor. There were certain periods when the urge started and thrusting all painting tools aside, he snatched up the hammer’ (Stoermer, quoted in M. Lloyd & M.Desmond, European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1992, p. 110). Through his friend and patron, Dr Paul Alexandre, the artist secured an introduction to his new neighbour, the sculptor Constantin Brancusi, whose passion for the medium and revolutionary distillation of form left an indelible impression on Modigliani, infusing him with a new self-confidence that allowed him to pursue his own sculptural ambitions. Direct carving in stone, as well as the scores of drawings and studies related to his sculptural practice, occupied the artist for several years thereafter.
During this period, however, it was the subject of the caryatid that possessed Modigliani above all others, dominating every facet of his oeuvre. These ancient statuesque figures, typically tall sensuous women draped in flowing robes, were a common feature of Greek and Roman temples, their iconic, columnar forms supporting the entablature above. Modigliani admired the inexpressive intentness of their bodies, the still energy and composure that filled their elegant, striking figures, as they effortlessly carried the weight of the structure on their crowns. In his many drawings on the subject, Modigliani treated the caryatid as an independent sculptural form, focusing on the curves and lines of their bodies in an array of poses that, without the architectural setting, appear to be engaged in a ritual dance or movement. At the height of his involvement with sculpture, Modigliani had envisioned what he called ‘a Temple of Beauty,’ in which an array of his sculpted caryatids would stand alongside one another in a carefully conceived sequence, their forms adopting a variety of attitudes and poses that would create an immersive environment, surrounding visitors with perfect visions of idealised beauty. Arranged en-masse, these colonnes de tendresse (columns of tenderness) were intended to evoke a timeless grace and sensuality, which would inspire veneration in viewers. However, Modigliani would never realise this ambitious project - only two stone caryatids carved by the artist have survived, Nu debout (1912) now in the National Museum of Australia, and Cariatide (1914) at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thus, Modigliani’s visions for his Temple of Beauty, and the caryatid protagonists that would fill it, are recorded in his drawings and painted studies alone.
Having said this, the caryatids that he captured on paper and canvas were more than just the markers of an unrealised project – they also offered Modigliani a space in which he could realise the vision he held in his head, free from the constraints of direct carving in stone, allowing him to experiment with different combinations and sources before committing to a final, unalterable design in his sculpture. In Cariatide the wealth of diverse sources which underpinned Modigliani’s interest in this subject are clearly evident, as the artist incorporates features that echo several different visual cultures, most notably the sculpture of Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. Paris during this time was experiencing an explosion of interest in classical culture and antiquities, with reports of discoveries in the Egyptian Valley of the Kings and the excavations of Troy, as well as the legendary labyrinth of Minos on the island of Crete, capturing the public’s imagination. The noted classicist Andreas Rumpf referred to the period 1870-1914 as ‘the age of great excavations,’ in which a swell of new archaeological expeditions across the Mediterranean and North Africa brought ancient artefacts to the attention of modern audiences after centuries hidden from view. As articles in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts attest, the collections of the Louvre were constantly being enriched, as new discoveries made their way into its hallowed halls, drawing vast crowds eager to view the latest additions to the French National Collection.
The influence of these classical examples is clearly evident in Cariatide, informing and shaping Modigliani’s approach to the sculptural form of the female body. The positioning of the figure’s legs for example, one knee slightly bent to pull the leg in front of the other, shifts her weight into a classical Greek contrapposto, while the manner in which she raises her arms to shoulder height, bending them at the elbow and wrists to create a strong, symmetrical linear shape, echoes the archaic caryatids of Egyptian temples. Indeed, visits to the Louvre’s Egyptian galleries were an important source of visual stimulation for Modigliani at this time. The poet Anna Akhmatova, who enjoyed a brief affair with Modigliani and posed for him several times during the years 1910-11, later recalled a visit to the great museum with the artist: ‘[Modigliani] used to rave about Egypt. At the Louvre he showed me the Egyptian collection and told me there was no point in seeing anything else, “tout les reste.” He drew my head bedecked with the jewellery of Egyptian queens and dancers, and seemed totally overawed by the majesty of Egyptian art… Commenting on the Venus de Milo, he said that women with beautiful figures who were worth modelling or drawing always seemed unshapely when clothed…’ (Akhmatova, quoted in K. Wayne, ‘Modigliani, Modern Sculpture and the Influence of Antiquity’, exh. cat., Modigliani: Sculptor, Rovereto, 2010, p. 79).
This fascination with Egyptian art no doubt also inspired the imposing frontality of the female figure in Cariatide, as well as the geometric simplification of her form. Indeed, the way in which Modigliani reduces her body to its purest elements – a cylinder here, a triangle there – rendering her outline in a series of precise lines, the artist appears to invoke both Egyptian sculptural and hieroglyphic traditions. The resulting straight, narrow features seem to compete with the more sensuous curves that mark other parts of her body, such as in the contrast between the rigid lines of her torso and hips and the shapely arabesque of her legs. In combining the two in a single form, Modigliani fuses abstraction with representation, creating a harmonious union of streamlined volumes and flowing, voluptuous curves. The smooth, regular geometry of her facial features, meanwhile, has been linked to the ritual masks and wooden idols of several different African countries, as well as to sculpted artefacts from the Khmer Empire. Subtly stylised into a benign, mask-like visage, her large, almond-shaped eyes, fat triangular nose, and small, plump lips, each appear to reference a variety of potential sources, while the manner in which Modigliani describes her hair, with regular, undulating lines divided by a straight central parting, seems to point once again to the enigmatic ‘Kore’ statues of Ancient Greece. The regular geometric patterning of the thin belt that encircles her hips, meanwhile, appears almost like a mysterious tattoo, its patterns inked into her skin, ornamenting the body whilst also providing a clear dividing line between her upper and lower bodies.
This simplification of form and subtle stylisation of the female form in Cariatide may also be seen to echo the groundbreaking style of Picasso’s proto-Cubist paintings of 1906-1907. Modigliani and Picasso had first become acquainted, legend has it, outside a café on the Place des Ternes, where Modigliani invited the Spaniard to share a drink with him, loaning the poor and depressed Picasso five francs at the end of the night. Their friendship waxed and waned through different periods of Modigliani’s tragically short life, but throughout their relationship Modigliani retained a deep reverence for Picasso’s work - his friend Dr Paul Alexandre later recalled accompanying Modigliani to an exhibition of Picasso’s paintings at Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s gallery: ‘I can see Modi there, completely absorbed in front of a small, strange watercolour of Picasso’s …’ (Alexandre, quoted in K. Wayne, Modigliani & the Artists of Montparnasse, New York, 2002, p. 38). Modigliani visited Picasso’s studio at the Bâteau Lavoir during the period that he was creating his seminal work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), and most likely saw many of the numerous studies which he had executed in preparation for the painting during the months leading up to its realisation. Indeed, Picasso seemed to share Modigliani’s fascination with the caryatid, posing one of the figures in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in a similar stance, with both arms raised above her head, her right leg dipped into a subtle contrapposto.
The incredible diversity of these sources, from their dates and origins, to the individual styles and techniques used in their creation, reveals not only the exceptional depth and range of Modigliani’s interest in visual culture, but also his innate ability to transform them into his own idiosyncratic pictorial language. Distilling each element down to their essential characteristics and combining them in unexpected partnerships, the artist imbues these elements with a new sense of modernity, creating an interplay of forms at once familiar and startlingly revolutionary. As Flavio Fergonzi has explained, Modigliani’s transformation of these classical sources became a marker of the sheer modernity of the artist’s aesthetic: ‘It is a world, that of Modigliani’s caryatid drawings, archaic and hieratic, proudly anti-modern. However, also conscious that every Primitivist synthesis, or every archaeological allusion, had to be translated into stylised elegance, very pleasing to modern tastes. The styles of the ancients had to undergo a knowledgeable reduction to the rules of modern linear harmony…’ (F. Fergonzi, ‘Preliminary Issues for Modigliani Sculptor,’ in exh. cat., Modigliani: Sculptor, Rovereto, 2010, p. 54).
Executed in vigorous, visceral brushstrokes, Cariatide captures a sense of the energy with which the artist has translated his vision in to paint. As the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, a close friend of Modigliani, recalls: ‘His own art was an art of personal feeling. He worked furiously, dashing of drawing after drawing without stopping to correct or ponder. He worked, it seemed, entirely by instinct – which, however, was extremely fine and sensitive… He could never forget his interest in people, and he painted them, so to say, with abandon, urged on by the intensity of his feeling and vision…’ (Lipchitz, quoted in P. Sichel, Modigliani: A Biography by Pierre Sichel, London, 1967, p. 212). Indeed, the warm apricot and peach tones that fill the caryatid’s form belie her inanimate, sculptural nature, suggesting the softness and warmth of flesh, while the hints of delicate blue that peek out along the edges of her contours, imbue her body with a sense of depth and three-dimensionality.
Within a short time of painting Cariatide, Modigliani was forced to abandon sculpture for good. This was due to a variety of reasons, not least among them the toll the process took on his health – a bout of tuberculosis as a teenager had left him vulnerable to the dust from the stone, while the physical strength required for direct carving frequently left Modigliani completely drained. Prevented from pursuing his visions in sculpture, the artist turned to painting, entering a period of intense creative activity that saw the inception of some of his most iconic works of art. Indeed, with its delicate colouring and statuesque treatment of the female body, Cariatide appears to prefigure the great reclining nudes the artist created from 1916 until his death in 1920. In particular, the manner in which the enigmatic figure at the heart of his famed Nu couché (1917-18) lies bare before the viewer, both of her arms raised upwards behind her head, seems to echo the pose of the present composition, casting the sleeping nude in the role of a horizontal caryatid. As such, Cariatide stands as a Janus-like work in Modigliani’s oeuvre, offering an insight into the importance that such studies for sculpture held for him, representing the space in which he was able to develop the ideas of form which would later underpin the figures in his erotically-charged, reclining nudes.
Please note that this work has been requested for inclusion in the following exhibitions:
New York, Jewish Museum, Modigliani Unmasked, 15 September 2017 - 4 February 2018.
London, Tate Modern, Modigliani, 23 November 2017 - 2 April 2018.
THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Collection André Lefèvre, March - April 1964, no. 205 (with incorrect provenance).
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Modigliani Retrospective, November - December 1973, no. 67 (illustrated; dated 'circa 1912').
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Nudes, Nus, Nackte, June - October 1984, no. 51 (illustrated; dated 'circa 1912')
Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Modigliani, June - October 1990, no. 29 (illustrated).
Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Amedeo Modigliani: Malerei, Skulpturen, Zeichnungen, January - April 1991, no. 16 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Zurich, Kunsthaus, April - July 1991.
Tokyo, Musée Tobu, Exposition Amedeo Modigliani au Japon, November - December 1992, no. 9, p. 70 (illustrated p. 71; with incorrect provenance); this exhibition later travelled to Kyoto, Musée Daimaru, December 1992 - January 1993; Osaka, Musée Daimaru d'Umeda, January - February 1993; and Ibaraki, Musée d'Art Moderne, February - March 1993.
Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna, Amedeo Modigliani, March - June 1999, no. 9 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, L'École de Paris 1904-1929, la Part de l'Autre, November 2000 - March 2001, p. 173 (illustrated) (illustrated).
Paris, Musée du Luxembourg, Modigliani: The Melancholy Angel, October 2002 - March 2003, no. 12 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Milan, Palazzo Reale, March - July 2003.
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Modigliani and His Models, July - October 2006, no. 2 (illustrated).
Moscow, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Meeting Modigliani, March - June 2007, no. 16, p. 44 (illustrated).
A. Ceroni & L. Piccioni, I dipinti di Modigliani, Milan, 1970, no. 37, p. 89 (illustrated p. 89 & pl. IV).
T. Castieau-Barrielle, La vie et l'oeuvre de Amedeo Modigliani, Paris, 1987 (illustrated p. 64).
O. Patani, Amedeo Modigliani, Catalogo generale: dipinti, Milan, 1991, no. 40 (illustrated p. 69; with incorrect provenance).
Exh. cat., Modigliani, Rome, 2006 (illustrated fig. 12, p. 29).
Léopold Zborowski, Paris.
André Lefèvre, Paris; sale, Palais Galliéra, Paris, 29 November 1966, lot 108.
The Brook Street Gallery, London, by whom acquired in 1968.
Robin D. Judah, London, by whom acquired in 1970.
Perls Galleries, New York (no. 7027).
Private collection, United States; sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 22 October 1980, lot 64.
Private collection, United States, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Private collection, United Kingdom, by whom acquired in December 1980.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.
Show bids Estimate
Show bids Estimate