DM sends me a print which is a silkscreen, a female head in red, signed Modigliani in the print itself. I met DM at a Road Show locally: I often volunteer to evaluate folks' things at special events throughout the Central Coast. I asked DM to send me images of her print, just to make sure it wasn't just a production copy of a contemporary (during the artist's life) print.
Modigliani in my opinion is one of the most unique artists in history. His lineage, descending from a long line of Sephardic Jews, for generations living in Italy is related to the 17th century Dutch Philosopher Baruch Spinoza. When Amedeo Modigliani was born, his father declared bankruptcy, a punishable offence in those days (1884), but the barliffs couldn't take a laboring mother's bed. His birth was under dark stars. As a youth he was sickly, suffering pleurisy, typhoid fever and tuberculosis which eventually killed him young, at 35.
True to the Jewish scholars in his lineage, he was amazingly well-read, especially versed in Nietzsche. He also loved hashish; moving to Paris in 1906, he found similar Bohemian artist friends, turning from painting in the classical style, trashing his studio, and becoming sicker with TB, which at that time was highly contagious. He turned to booze and pills to avoid the pain. He also turned to "bohemian" women, giving them portraits of themselves, therefore not all of his works exist.
He met, of course, the first love of his life when he was at his worst. She was married and left him in a year for her husband, so he came back to Italy, getting bored there, he returned to Paris, where he was mentored by Constantin Brancusi, the great sculptor; from this period comes Modigliani's great sculptures. His sculptures today are some of the most valuable in the art world. He returned to painting nudes for a 1917 one-man show which was closed down for "obscenity" by the Parisian police. He never really sold anything for much during his short life.
He was a good looking man; loving his life-drawing (sketching numerous nudes) at school, he excelled in art school and with nudes as well, seducing models along the way, history has it.
Tragedy, as usual, struck in the form of a beautiful model, 19 year old Jeanne Hebuterne, whose parents hated the debauched artist, and even more so when it was found she was carrying his child. He died holding Jeanne who by then was pregnant with her 2nd child by him; inconsolable, she threw herself off her parent's balcony and died along with her unborn child.
Their first child, also named Jeanne, lived until 1984, having spent formative years in the French Resistance in World War II, then writing a biography of her father in 1958: Modigliani: Man and Myth. Her dad was friends with everyone who was anyone in art of his time, considered by all a sweet drunk: Cocteau, Rousseau, Picasso, and Rivera, partied with him. Ironically, his daughter who was raised by her aunt was never told who her real parents were, until much later in her life. Her book was a serious attempt to know her father.
If you are interested in the contrast between an artist and his life (think nasty Mozart) take a look at Alexander Liberman's The Artist in His Studio, a compilation of great artists' horrendous living spaces.
Now, DM, that I have exited you with the prospect of a fortune, your print called "The Head in Red," is worth $400 on a good day. The printed title in English gives it away: it is not contemporary with the artist's life and dates from the mid 20th century.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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