The present picture exemplifies all the best characteristics of Modigliani's portraits from this period. One of several paintings from 1918 which depict adolescent girls (figs. 1 and 2), it is remarkable above all for its sensitive characterization of the period of transition between childhood and adulthood. The model is a young girl with pale gray eyes and wavy auburn hair, seated in a wooden chair against an undecorated background. At first glance, she seems the epitome of passivity and calm: she sits neatly frontal, arms at her sides, her face expressionless, her gaze direct and unwavering. Certain details of the composition, however, belie this initial impression. A bow perches precariously on the girl's head, her shoulders are not square with the chair but subtly rotated, as though she were restless or uncomfortable in her seat. The outlines of the figure waver slightly, increasing this sensation of tension and potential kinesis, and the picture's rich russets and muted blue-grays form strong contrasts that vibrate in relation to one another. The girl's face is more heavily worked than the remainder of the painting, serving to focus the viewer's attention upon her inscrutable features and suggesting the richness of feeling that they mask.
In their subtle psychological insight, pictures like the present one owe a substantial debt to the portraits of Cézanne. Particularly notable are the French painter's depictions of his wife, which usually show her seated frontal and straight-backed, her expression neutral and her gaze steady (fig. 3). The sense of space in Cézanne's portraits is often complex and agitated, producing a sensation of energy and imbalance; the viewer has the impression that deep, unresolved emotions lie behind the sitter's calm, still exterior. Modigliani adored the pictures of Cézanne and talked passionately of his admiration for them; his move to the Midi, where Cézanne had painted periodically throughout his life, may have intensified Modigliani's engagement with the older master's work. Notably, many of Cézanne's portraits from the 1890s depict children and peasants and are rendered with the same quiet tonality and candid sympathy that Modigliani brings to his sitters a generation later.
Critics have long recognized the refined sensitivity of Modigliani's portraiture; as Werner Schmalenbach has commented, "these are the works with which the artist has earned his place in the history of art" (Schmalenbach, op. cit., p. 25). In 1951, James Thrall Soby declared:
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, and 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, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1951, p. 10).
Three years later, the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, a close friend of Modigliani, wrote a short book on the Italian painter which includes a poignant analysis of his portraits:
His own art was an art of personal feeling. He worked furiously, dashing off drawing after drawing without stopping to ponder. He worked, it seemed, entirely by instinct--which, however, was extremely fine and sensitive, perhaps owing much to his Italian inheritance and his love of the early Renaissance masters. He could not forget his interest in people, and he painted them, so to say, with abandon . . . He could not permit abstraction to interfere with feeling, to get between him and his subjects. And that is why his portraits are such remarkable characterizations (J. Lipchitz, Modigliani, New York, 1954).
An early owner of the present portrait was Paul Guillaume, the most significant collector and dealer of African art in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century. Guillaume began dealing in African sculpture in 1911; Apollinaire was one of his first clients and the two men quickly became close friends. In 1914, Guillaume supplied the objects for one of the first international exhibitions of African art, held at Alfred Stieglitz's gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York. Guillaume also dealt in modern art: Derain, Picabia and de Chirico were among the artists that he represented, and he served as Albert Barnes's agent in Paris. Moreover, Guillaume's gallery at 108 Faubourg Saint-Honoré was one of the major centers of artistic and literary life in Paris during World War I. An indication of its importance is the "Evening of Poetry and Music" that Guillaume sponsored on 13 November 1917: Satie performed the score of Parade at the piano, Cocteau and Apollinaire spoke, and a young actress recited the poetry of André Breton.
Guillaume was introduced to Modigliani in 1915 by the poet Max Jacob, and immediately began to collect and deal in works by the artist. Modigliani in turn painted at least four portraits of Guillaume around 1916 (fig. 4). The dealer left a poignant elegy to the Italian artist:
[He painted] as he lived, sentimentally, violently, erratically, wastefully. I use this last word advisedly because it characterizes accurately Modigliani's extraordinary life. The painter was in fact a poet. He loved and judged poetry not with the cold partiality of a university professor, but with a spirit mysteriously equipped to appreciate all that was sensitive and adventurous (quoted in W. Schmalenbach, op. cit., p. 194).
(fig. 1) Amedeo Modigliani, Fillette aux tresses, 1918.
Nagoya City Art Museum.
(fig. 2) Amedeo Modigliani, Fillette au tablier noir, 1918.
(fig. 3) Paul Cézanne, Portrait de Madame Cézanne, 1888-1890.
(Sale, Christie's, New York, 12 May 1997, lot 115).
(fig. 4) Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait de Paul Guillaume, 1916.
(Sale, Christie's, New York, 13 November 1996, lot 19).
Oil on canvas
Property from the Estate of Sophie Sampliner
Signed 'Modigliani' (upper right)
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Amedeo Modigliani, for the Benefit of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, October-November 1971, no. 43 (illustrated in color).
237/8 x 18¼ in. (60.6 x 46.3 cm.)
P. Descargues, Modigliani, Paris, 1954, pl. 49 (illustrated).
A. Ceroni and L. Piccioni, I dipinti di Modigliani, Milan, 1970, p. 99, no. 225 (illustrated).
J. Lanthemann, Modigliani 1884-1920, catalogue raisanné, sa vie, son oeuvre complet, son art, Barcelona, 1970, p. 128, no. 309 (illustrated, p. 241).
O. Patani, Amedeo Modigliani, catalogo generale: Dipinti, Milan, 1991, p. 243, no. 235 (illustrated in color).
Emile Bernheim, Paris.
Paul Guillaume, Paris.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, December 1961.