In the spring of 1918, as the German army was closing in on Paris, Modigliani's dealer Leopold Zborowski moved a group of his protegs and their companions from the capital to the south of France. Soutine, Foujita, Fernande Barrey and Hanka Zborowski were among this troupe, and Modigliani (fig. 1) was accompanied by the pregnant Jeanne Hbuterne and her mother. The trip was almost thwarted at the outset by Modigliani's last-minute search for wine in the train station in Paris; Foujita and Zborowski looked all over the station as the conductor yelled "En voiture," until Foujita found the artist in the cafeteria buying wine to drink during the trip.
By the time of his sojourn to the Midi, Modigliani had already begun to abandon some of the Cubist-derived stylistic devices which had characterized his early years. Although he retained until the end of his career some of the trademark mannerisms of his Montparnasse period--the geometric simplification of the head and body, for example, and the sightless, almond eyes--the portraits from 1917 onward are marked by an increased naturalism in the artist's depiction of the human figure. This mounting tendency towards naturalism gained momentum upon Modigliani's arrival the south of France: separated from his Paris coterie of artists, poets, friends and patrons, he relied for his models upon the local citizenry of Cagnes-sur-Mer and neighboring towns, children and ordinary working girls who lent themselves to a more straight-forward, sympathetic presentation than had the sophisticated urban denizens of bohemian Montparnasse. In treatment and in gesture, particularly in their heightened sense of solidity and mass, these pictures owe a substantial debt to Czanne, and it has been suggested that Modigliani's move to the Midi caused him recall and to reflect upon the masterpieces which the French painter had executed in and around Marseilles some decades before.
Writing about these works, Werner Schmalenbach has commented:
It was precisely at this time that Modigliani became the painter of simple, unknown, nameless peopole. He painted portraits of ordinary men and women: a gardener, an apprentice, a young peasant, a chambermaid, a woman druggist, and occasionally a child--people from a social background other and "lower" than his own. This sprang not from any hankering after social comment but from an intensely "human" interest... They convey a reticent but forcefully expressed inner sympathy, and they achieve great poignancy... It is as if, in order to do justice to these simple people, the painter had renounced his aesthetic eloquence; as if he were being even more restrained in his use of color than usual; as if he were approaching his sitters quietly, almost shyly. It is in this small group of paintings, which stands out so sharply from the portraits of male and female friends, that Czanne makes his reappearance in Modigliani's work, not so much in the manner of painting as in the vision of humanity. All Modigliani's works in this vein have the same quiet tonality, the almost vegetative presence of the sitter and a human understanding that is more intense because nothing is mannered. (W. Schmalenbach, Amedeo Modigliani, Munich, 1990, pp. 43-44)
The present picture is one of at least three pictures which Modigliani executed in 1918 (figs. 2 and 3) which show a young girl in a simple white chemise, one strap falling from her shoulder to reveal her breast. The anonymous model for all three pictures is the same: a young girl with pale blue eyes, a small rosebud mouth, and a round, fleshy physique, her auburn hair falling to her shoulders in thick, corkscrew curls. In all three pictures, she is seated frontally in an armchair, her head tilted to one side; in the present version, her hands are clasped in her lap, while in the other two examples she touches her right hand to her bosom. In contrast to the explicit eroticism of the series of reclining nudes which Modigliani began in 1916, the present picture and the two related ones are notable for the shy, demure affect of the sitter.
Summarizing Modigliani's achievement as a portrait painter, James Thrall Soby has written:
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 a simple 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 ventriloquist's dummies. They are believable and wholly in character, yet they would be limp and unimaginable without his guiding animation. (J.T. Soby, exh. cat., Modigliani: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, 1951, p. 10)
(fig. 1) Amedeo Modigliani, circa 1917
(Photo by Marc Vaux)
(fig. 2) Amedeo Modigliani, Jeune fille assise en chemise, 1918
(fig. 3) Amedeo Modigliani, Jeune fille assise en chemise, 1918
Jeune fille assise en chemise
Oil on canvas
Please note, the last lines of provenance should read:
Hammer Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Signed 'Modigliani' (upper right)
New York, The American-British Art Center; Chicago, The Arts Club; Milwaukee, Art Center, and Cincinnati, The Contemporary Arts Center, Amedeo Modigliani, November 1944-May 1959, no. 19.
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Loan Exhibition, Amedeo Modigliani, For the Benefit of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October-November 1971, no. 33 (illustrated in color).
Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art, and Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Art Gallery, Modigliani, July-November 1985, p. 115 (illustrated, no. 93).
32 x 21 in. (81.2 x 54 cm.)
A. Salmon, Modigliani, sa vie et son oeuvre, Paris, 1926, pl. 24 (illustrated).
A. Ceroni, I dipinti di Modigliani, Milan, 1970, p. 101, no. 264 (illustrated).
J. Lanthemann, Modigliani, 1884-1920: Catalogue raisonn, sa vie, son oeuvre complet, son art, Barcelona, 1970, p. 126, no. 280 (illustrated, p. 234).
Leopold Zborowski, Paris
Leon Brillouin, New York
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
Mr. and Mrs. Max Kettner, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Keith Barish, Los Angeles
Marlborough Gallery, Inc., New York
Hammer Gallery, New York
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