Thursday, 8 March 2018

Until Monday 02 April (Easter Monday)

Go for the sculpture (and the sculptural drawings) not just the nudes

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani made sculpture as well as paintings and drawings. And fine ones. Tate Modern's Modigliani: A Portrait exhibition, showing 11 roomsful of his work, puts his sculpture at the back. If you make your way from the entrance straight to the back (room 5) you'll find the calm and well wrought 'Heads', limestone, sandstone and other building stones carved by the artist from about 1908 onwards and particularly in a 2-year burst of creative energy in the years 1911 to 1913 between the ages of 26 and 28. They come, like the sculptural drawings and paintings, from generous lenders from Walsall (the Garman Ryan Collection) to Washington. 

Modigliani's sculptures were inspired by the time he and many of his fellow artists, living in (of course) Paris, paid visits to the Ethnographic Museum (now the Musée de l'Homme). As the reader will know, the first time any artistic sensibility sees work originally created in unknown lands - Africa, Asia, Cambodia, Côte d'Ivoire - not to mention from the Ancients of Egypt, Greece and Rome - many doors in the mind open. 

Woman's Head (With Chignon)
1911-12 Sandstone
572 x 219 x 235 mm
Merzbacher Kunststiftung
The many sculptures - the room is full - are well presented, each in a vitrine set on a well-spaced plinth. Too many people seem to walk unseeingly past them, thinking only of the paintings and missing Modigliani's fine interpretation of the early work he saw that inspired them, as well as the polish and precision of his practice. In one, a limestone 'Head', limestone being a natural, although non-living, material, there is a small cavité, where perhaps a larger fossil once rested. Within this hole, the sculptor has placed an even smaller head, classical in feel and carved from a white stone, probably marble. See also the Tate's wall poster in the sculpture room which relates the delightful story of Jacob Epstein's visits to Modigliani's studio and his reaction to the newly made sculptures. 

Head c.1911
Medium Stone
394 x 311 x 187 mm
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg 
Museum, Gift of Lois Orswell
© President 
and Fellows of Harvard College
You cannot see and appreciate this exhibition in a single visit. Nor should you try. Single membership of all 4 of the Tate Galleries costs £76 for a year, enabling you to visit as often as you like. Indeed, I intend to take my own advice here since I would like to spend a little more time with the paintings. Just outside the sculpture room you will find some delightful and more than competently drawn sculptural drawings, many of caryatids. I particularly liked 'Caryatid with Pointed Breast', c 1913-14. And for a work based on an ancient architectural device, the woman's body as weight-supporting column, it is truly modern.

And of course there are painted nudes aplenty, many gazing towards the viewer, and, deliberately so for the time, to the potential male buyer. This may be unworthy but I write this on International Women's Day: Modigliani's portraits of his friends, fellow artists and acquaintances also reward study - none of them, being men, are portrayed nude of course. Particularly interesting is his portrait of his first dealer, Paul Guillaume, smoking a cigarette. Modigliani has angled the face so that the nose and mouth appear bright and lively, gradually recessing the cheeks in a series of shadowy triangles, a stubbly effect that seems to suggest the way the sitter draws the cigarette smoke into himself.

Modigliani died of substance abuse and the tuberculosis that had dogged him since the age of 16 at the age of 35. His partner, the artist Jeanne Hébuterne with whom he had a child, pregnant with a second child, killed herself a few days after his death. She was 21. In the Tate shop, for £20, you can buy a Jeanne Hébuterne cushion cover. You can sit on her. In this reviewer's opinion, a little more decorum might have been exercised here. Again, this effect might have been mitigated by a partner cushion portraying the artist in one of his self-portraits.

Forthcoming: comments on the paintings

London SE1 

£19.70 (free for Members)Adult £19.70 (£17.70 without donation)
Senior £18.70 (£16.70 without donation)

Concession £17.90 (£15.90 without donation)
Under 12s free (up to four per family adult)

Extended opening hours 
now booking for selected dates

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