Friday 3 May 2019

“Je m’appelle Modigliani. Je suis Juif.”

"My name is Modigliani. I am a Jew.", was Modigliani's (1884-1920) habit to introduce himself (via). Born into a middle class Italian-Jewish family in Livorno, Amedeo Clemente Modigliani moved to Bohemian, cosmopolitan Paris and centre of the art world in 1906 to develop his career (via).

Modigliani's harmonious, Latin good looks were at furthest remove from the anti-Semitic racial type - epitomised by the hooked Jewish nose. (...) in Paris, Modigliani was a Jew with a difference: he was Italian. Emily Braun
Paris meant excitement and inspiration, new ideas and opinions, contemporaries such as Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec. It also meant anti-Semitism. According to some, Modigliani was part of the Jewish artistic community - others point out that he was a nonpracticing Jew (via) and that his Jewish connection should not be exaggerated (via) - but what made him different from his contemporaries was that he encountered prejudice the first time when he came to Paris while others had left Eastern European countries for Paris due to prejudice (via). Another difference was that Modigliani was already speaking French fluently when he arrived in France and found it easier to integrate and assimilate into his new culture. Modigliani became part of the Parisian art world scene and developed with it. At the same time, art from his Asian and African contemporaries fascinated him (via).
Although Modigliani’s early work is typically viewed as subordinate to his late paintings, understanding the anti-Semitic social and cultural climate in which these early works were created is crucial to apprehending Modigliani’s overall oeuvre, and how it was influenced by his own interpretation of his identity as a Sephardic Jew.
When he arrived in Paris in 1906, Modigliani for the first time in his life experienced social ostracism and anti-Semitism, propagated by the likes of the racist publisher Edouard Drumont who spread ideas that contrasted sharply with the artist’s more tolerant upbringing in Italy. At the same time, Modigliani was fluent in French thanks to his French mother who grew up in Marseille. This allowed the artist to blend in with the French culture, and move between different social spaces with greater ease than some of his fellow Jewish artists from Eastern Europe. (...)
Modigliani’s subjugation to xenophobia and anti-Semitism, while fostering his own interpretation of identity and cultural hybridity, increasingly encouraged him to incorporate a host of diverse influences into his work, especially non-western traditions, including ancient art from Greece, Egypt, and Africa. Evidence of African tribal masks, in particular, can be observed in his renderings of exaggerated, elongated faces, which would become a hallmark of his art-making.
Here are two excerpts with contrasting views:
He understood identity and Jewishness as incredibly fluid and dynamic, and not at all in the sort of racist, fixed way that the French did at the time.
I think he was in some way parodying the extreme caricature-ness in which Jews and ethnic types, Africans, etc. were depicted in the popular press.
He’s very much fixated on Jewish faces—prominent nose, deep-set eyes, large lips. He exoticized or produced that extreme image because he was so different from it in real life.
The mask became a great signifier of this veiled, enigmatic quality or notion of identity” - a metaphor for his ability to assimilate in France without truly belonging.

Mason Klein, curator
The exhibit focuses primarily on work executed before World War I and is constrained by the curator Mason Klein’s thesis linking Modigliani’s mask-like figures to his identity as an outsider, a Sephardic Jew from Italy living in Paris. I will say upfront: I don’t buy this.
Frances Brent

Some stress his Jewish connection, others say it should not be exaggerated. Then, there is the notion that Modigliani was "a deeply Italian painter" versus "really French" while others come to the conclusion that he was "a culturally international person" and "culturally multi-faceted" (via).
"Modigliani is a deeply Italian painter, and he’s clearly interested in the language of the body, which is the language of Italian art." Griselda Pollock, art historian at England’s University of Leeds
While there are several memoirs that describe Modigliani’s passionate response to anti-Semitism, there’s simply no evidence that he felt himself an outsider. As was often the case in Sephardic families, his was deeply cosmopolitan. His mother was born in Marseilles and, generations back, her family had lived in Tunisia, Livorno, and even Algeria. His father’s family’s business had been in Rome but his father spent most of his time in Sardinia. National boundaries or the distinction between Sephardic and Ashkanazi Jews would have meant nothing to him. In Paris, his friends included many Jews—Lipchitz, Sutine, Max Jacob, Chagall, Zadkine, Nadelman, Diego Rivera, and Kisling—as well as non-Jews like Picasso, Henri Laurens, Juan Gris, and Jean Cocteau. If he was recognized for his Italianism, it was because of his dashing style. Lipchitz said, "he looked aristocratic even in his worn-out corduroys."
Frances Brent

Modigliani met Jeanne Hébuterne (1898-1920), a promising 19-year-old art student, in 1917. She immediately moved in with him "leaving her petit-bourgeois family aghast that she had taken up with a failed artist, and a Jewish one at that". Hébuterne gave birth to their daughter Jeanne on 29 November 2018, by summer 1919, she was pregnant again. On 24 January 1920, Amedeo Modigliani died of tubercular meningitis at age 35. About two days after his death, Hébuterne committed suicide by throwing herself out of the fifth-floor flat window. She was eight months' pregnant with their second child (via).
Their first daughter Jeanne was 14 months old when Modigliani died (via). Jeanne Modigliani (1918-1984) was brought to the Italian city of Livorno and raised by her grandparents and aunt who adopted her. She graduated in art history in Florence and later fled to Paris as she was persecuted as a Jew. In World War II, she became part of the French Resistance (via).

- - - - - - - - - -
photographs of Jeanne Modigliani with paintings of her mother painted by her father, by Ralph Crane (1964) via and via and via and via