The present painting is the largest of three portraits that Modigliani made of one of his closest friends, the Polish artist Moïse Kisling (figs. 1-2). Painted in 1915 and 1916, these images of Kisling are part of an important group of several dozen portraits by Modigliani that depict the artists, writers, dealers, and collectors who frequented bohemian Montparnasse during the war years. Taken together, these paintings constitute a veritable visual history of Left Bank culture in the second decade of the twentieth century. Werner Schmalenbach has written, "In his portraits, without ever setting out to be so, Modigliani was a chronicler of the vie bohème of Montparnasse, the district where in his time the artistic life of the French capital was being transformed. He painted so many people from this world that one is almost impelled to ask whom he did not paint. Modigliani was part of this bohème in a highly personal and indeed an exemplary way. In the eyes of his contemporaries, he was--as he has remained--its epitome" (op. cit., p. 33). Coinciding with Modigliani's return to painting after concentrating almost exclusively on sculpture for several years, the portraits of 1915-1916 also occupy a preeminent place in the artist's stylistic development. As Schmalenbach has declared, "These are the works with which Modigliani has earned his place in the history of art" (ibid., p. 33).
When Modigliani moved to Montparnasse from neighboring Montmartre in late 1908 or early 1909, the neighborhood had already earned a reputation as the center of avant-garde artistic life in Paris. Lively, cosmopolitan, and sophisticated, Montparnasse was home to hundreds of artists and writers from dozens of different countries. The Café de la Rotonde, situated on the Boulevard du Montparnasse, functioned as the principal gathering place for this group, which included Picasso, Juan Gris, Diego Rivera, Chaïm Soutine, Jacques Lipchitz, and Max Jacob, among many others. An article on the Rotonde from the June 3, 1917 issue of Le Cri de Paris described the atmosphere there: "It is a very welcoming establishment and a good place to sit down. It has been chosen as the headquarters by those men the cubist painters. That is where they gather. That is where we can see their pope, Monsieur Picasso, surrounded by his cardinals, Messieurs Kisling, Modigliani, Ortiz de Zarate, etc. That is where their prophets Messieurs Guillaume Apollinaire and André Salmon establish their attack plans against the bourgeois spirit and debate between them the most abstruse questions of pyramidal, spherical, cylindrical, and conical aesthetics" (quoted in K. Wayne, Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse, exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 2002, p. 21). The artist Jacob Epstein, a fellow denizen of Montparnasse, described Modigliani as the quintessential figure of this extraordinary time and place: "All bohemian Paris knew him. His geniality and esprit were proverbial" (quoted in ibid., p. 36).
Moïse Kisling, the subject of the present portrait, was another of the most popular figures in Montparnasse during this period (fig. 3). Born in Poland in 1891, he studied at the Kraków School of Fine Arts until 1910, when he moved to Paris. He settled at 3, rue Joseph Bara, a building occupied almost entirely by painters and sculptors. Extroverted and generous, Kisling loved to play host, and his studio soon emerged as a favorite haunt for avant-garde artists, much like Picasso's apartment at the Bateau-Lavoir had been during the previous decade. Kisling also became one of Modigliani's closest friends and staunchest supporters. Starting in 1916, he shared his studio with Modigliani, even supplying the perennially impoverished painter with canvas and pigment. The two artists were frequently spotted together in the cafés and watering holes of the Left Bank, and a drawing by the Russian artist Maria Marevna shows them reveling with Soutine in Diego Rivera's studio in Montparnasse (fig. 4). In his biography of Modigliani, Pierre Sichel writes, "Less volatile than Modi, Kisling played as hard as he worked, chased the girls, drank, enjoyed parties and good times, but never became unhinged in the process. His exuberance and his magnificent gestures endeared him to Modigliani. There was the time he sold a painting for a hundred francs. Then, walking along the street with Modi, he spent all hundred on flowers which he impulsively gave to the women passing by--not just to pretty women, but to the ordinary, the young, the old, the beautiful, the ugly" (ibid., p. 230).
The two friends also had their share of disputes. In April of 1916, for instance, Modigliani and Kisling both painted portraits of the poet Jean Cocteau in a series of sittings in Kisling's studio. During one session, Cocteau brought out a bottle of gin and arranged it with a lemon and a soda water siphon for Kisling to paint. Modigliani, who had no interest in still-life painting, opened the bottle and began to make gin fizzes instead. A lively quarrel with Kisling ensued, at the end of which Modigliani inscribed on a drawing of Cocteau, "I, the undersigned, author of this drawing, swear never to get drunk again for the duration of the war" (quoted in B. Klüver, "Modigliani and Picasso in Montparnasse," in exh. cat., op. cit., Paris, 2002, p. 76). Despite their differences, Kisling and Modigliani remained close until the latter's death in January of 1920. Kisling was at Modigliani's bedside in the Hôpital de la Charité when he passed away. He sketched the artist on his deathbed and also made a plaster death mask, which Jacques Lipchitz later cast in a bronze edition for twelve of Modigliani's closest friends.
The present portrait is a striking character study of the young Kisling, depicted at the age of twenty-five. It shows him seated on a chair or stool, his hands in his lap and his torso turned at a slight three-quarter angle. In the background is what appears to be either a paneled door or the stretcher for a large canvas, propped upright against the wall. Kisling is clad in a blue artist's smock and simple, dark trousers. His expression is reserved yet guileless, and his posture is slightly ungainly. The physiognomic details of the portrait are unmistakably Kisling's, especially the wide brow with its thick fringe of dark hair. Yet Modigliani has subjected the sitter's facial features to a series of pronounced formal stylizations, translating them into his distinctive pictorial idiom. The eyes are almond-shaped and slightly asymmetrical, the nose is narrow and spatulated, the mouth is small and lozenge-like, and the contours of the face are sculptural and incisive. Schmalenbach explains, "The early portraits--those painted in 1915 and 1916--are marked by a considerable degree of structuring applied to the human face. They are simplified and are endowed to a greater or lesser degree with articulation and rhythm, by the formal manipulations to which they are subjected. The faces threaten to veer out of control, but the cause is never expressive, always formal, and never prevents the emergence of a characteristic and individual expression" (op. cit., p. 37). Jean Cocteau made a similar point in his eloquent account of the artist's extraordinary achievement as a figure painter:
It was not Modigliani who distorted and lengthened the face, who established its asymmetry, knocked out one of the eyes, elongated the neck. All of this happened in his heart. And this is how he drew us at the tables in the Café de la Rotonde; this is how he saw us, loved us, felt us, disagreed or fought with us. His drawing was a silent conversation, a dialogue between his lines and ours. We were all subordinated to his style, to a type that he carried within himself, and he automatically looked for faces that resembled the configuration that he required, both from man and woman. Resemblance is actually nothing more than a pretext that allows the painter to confirm the picture that is in his mind. And by that one does not mean an actual, physical picture, but the mystery of one's own genius (quoted in D. Krystof, Amedeo Modigliani, 1884-1920: The Poetry of Seeing, Cologne, 2000, p. 54).
(fig. 1) Amedeo Modigliani, Moïse Kisling, 1915. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan. BARCODE 23662193
(fig. 2) Amedeo Modigliani, Moïse Kisling devant une fenêtre, 1916. Musée d'Art Moderne, Villeneuve d'Ascq. BARCODE 23662186
(fig. 3) Kisling and Picasso in Montparnasse, 1916. BARCODE 23662179
(fig. 4) Maria Marevna, Modigliani, Kisling, and Soutine, 1914. BARCODE 23662162
Moïse Kisling seduto
Oil on board
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
Signed 'Modigliani' (lower left)
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, May-June 1929.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, Art Italien Contemporain, January-February 1950, no. 60.
New York, Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, Manhattan Women's Division, Sixty-Eight Great Paintings, January 1957, no. 40.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, European Masters of Our Time, October-November 1957, no. 51.
Atlanta Art Association, The Art of Amedeo Modigliani, March-April 1960, no. 18.
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc.; and Massachusetts, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Modern French Painting, April-June 1962, no. 36.
New York, Acquavella Galleries Inc., Amedeo Modigliani, October-November 1971, no. 5.
Tokyo, Art Gallery Tokyu, Modigliani, Utrillo, Kisling, August-September 1980, no. 9 (illustrated).
Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art; and Aichi Prefectural Art Gallery, Modigliani, July-November 1985, p. 181, no. 16 (illustrated).
Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen; and Zurich, Kunsthaus, Amedeo Modigliani: Malerei, Skulpturen, Zeichnungen, January-July 1991, p. 223, no. 39 (illustrated in color).
41¼ x 29½ (104.8 x 74.9 cm.)
W. George, La Grande Peinture Contemporaine à la collection Paul Guillaume, Paris, 1929, p. 140 (illustrated).
A. Pfannstiel, Modigliani, Paris, 1929, p. 9, no. VI.
E. Joseph, Dictionnaire Biographique des Artistes Contemporains, Paris, 1934, vol. III, p. 30 (illustrated).
G. di San Lazzaro, Modigliani, Paris, 1953, p. 6 (illustrated).
A. Pfannstiel, Modigliani et son oeuvre, Paris, 1956, p. 72, no. 60.
A. Ceroni, Amedeo Modigliani, Milan, 1958, p. 49, no. 53 (illustrated; dated 1915).
A. Ceroni, Modigliani, Milan, 1970, p. 93, no. 107 (illustrated).
J. Lanthemann, Modigliani, 1884-1920: Catalogue raisonné, sa vie, son oeuvre complet, son art, Barcelona, 1970, p. 113, no. 92 (illustrated, p. 183).
C. Parisot, Modigliani: Catalogue raisonné, Florence, 1991, p. 289, no. 2/1916 (illustrated, p. 102).
A. Kruszynski, Amedeo Modigliani: Portraits and Nudes, Munich, 2000, p. 40 (illustrated in color, p. 36).
Modigliani: The Melancholy Angel, exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2002, p. 39 (illustrated, fig. 10).
Paul Guillaume, Paris.
Jean Walter, Paris.
Dr. Emilio Jesi, Milan.
Jacques Lindon, New York.
Leo M. Rogers, New York; sale, Christie's, London, 27 June 1972, lot 139.
Arthur Tooth & Sons, London (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired by the present owner, circa 1973.