Modý was less maudit than people think. In France, the exhibition that reveals Modigliani's secrets

Modigliani was far less cursed than we think. In France they analyzed 28 of his works, and an exhibition in Lille now reveals the Livorno painter's secrets.

In France, the exhibition Les Secrets de Modigliani, organized at the LaM - Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut in Lille, will kick off on February 19 and run until September 19, 2021: the review, curated by Marie-Amélie Senot and Anaïs Genty-Vincent, presents to the public the results of a scientific study by C2RMF (Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France) on a large corpus of works by Amedeo Modigliani (Leghorn, 1884 - Paris, 1920), analyzed in collaboration with the company Chimie ParisTech and the Laboratoire de Miniaturisation pour la Synthèse, l’Analyse & la Protéomique of the University of Lille. The study covered 25 paintings and 3 sculptures (including 6 works held in the LaM’s collections), produced throughout his career, and the subject of a major multi-year diagnostic campaign.

The idea is to offer the public an insight into the artist’s working method, particularly the material dimension of his way of working (choice of support, choice of colors, and so on), so as to reconstruct Modigliani’s creative process. Also offered to the public as part of the exhibition is a documentary, Modigliani et ses secrets, made by Jacques Loeuille, produced by Les Docs du Nord in collaboration with the LaM, Pictanovo and Arte France, and premiered on the Arte television station last Dec. 20.

The two curators of the exhibition offered some previews to the French newspaper Le Journal des Arts. “One of the main difficulties in understanding Modigliani’s work,” said Senot, head of conservation at LaM, “consists in the fact that there is little archival material. There is virtually nothing written about his work, and his contemporaries have left written accounts that are late and often fictionalized rather than supported by facts, so we have little information about his working methods and atelier practices. The works have therefore turned out to be his archives.”

One of the main results of the diagnostic campaign is the revelation of Amedeo Modigliani’s excellent skills as a colorist: in fact, analyses have shown that the Leghorn artist “produced” his own colors, unlike many of his colleagues. Although he used industrial-grade products, Modigliani in fact tried to mix them in order to obtain the colors capable of giving his paintings the depth and expressive vividness that characterize his masterpieces. These are elements that cannot be distinguished with the naked eye, but analysis (X-rays, X-ray fluorescence) revealed how in some cases the artist mixed as many as ten different pigments to achieve the desired hue. “He is a painter who strongly exploits the potential of pigments to create singular hues,” says Genty-Vincent. “For example, although yellow is almost absent from his works, analysis revealed that he integrated several yellow pigments (ochre, chrome yellow, zinc yellow, lead yellow) by mixing them with other colors. And he did the same with white: he used different types of white pigment, especially lead white and zinc white: sometimes he painted some areas with zinc white and others with lead white to achieve different effects, working on the degree of opacity.” The study is important because it also provides information on the conservation of Modigliani’s works, especially since the artist did not apply varnishes to his canvases (when varnishes are found on his works, it is because they were applied to them later, moreover, resulting in an alteration of the painting’s original appearance, as was found in the case of the portrait of Moïse Kisling in the LaM collections).

Still, the study helped reveal that “Modì” was ... much less “maudit” than one might think. In fact, the analyses downplayed the cliché of thecursed artist who works quickly under the influence of alcohol: on the contrary, Modigliani, according to these analyses, in addition to spending time preparing colors, possessed a high level of technical mastery, typical of a painter who had received solid training. Indeed, the diagnostic campaign focused on preparatory drawings (one of the goals of the exhibition is precisely to delve into this aspect of Modigliani’s work): not many were found underneath the 26 canvases, which means that Modigliani hardly drew on canvas, but the sheer volume of drawings that have been preserved proves, according to Senot and Genty-Vincent, that the artist did not work on impulse, but according to a long and well-thought-out process. But beyond this (it has long been known that Modigliani was a great draughtsman), analyses have taken stock of his method of preparing canvases, which was also very elaborate and varied according to the subjects the artist had to deal with. For example, for the canvases that would accommodate nudes, Modigliani used a blue-gray primer that would allow him to enhance the tones of the subject’s complexions by giving the whole a particular luminosity, designed to capture the viewer’s attention.

Finally, studies have reaffirmed how Modigliani’s technique underwent a profound evolution over the course of his albeit brief career, which lasted only about fifteen years. In particular, the very dense and thick material of his early days became more fluid over time, becoming smoother and purer. And again, in the later stage of his career Modigliani was able to multiply the color effects by varying the method of using the brush. A way of painting that, according to the curators, is linked to his activity as a sculptor. “This study,” says Senot, “also allows us to better understand the contribution of his sculpture to painting. We can clearly see that the artist applied effects to his paintings that are typical of the surface of sculptures. For example, in the way of representing hair, where the artist uses the handle of the brush to hollow out the pictorial material and give relief. You can feel the influence of sculpture in his way of laying the brush touches, it is typical of the period when Modigliani returned to painting.”

Will the Lille exhibition finally open a new season for Modigliani, made up of more serious exhibitions and a more rigorous approach, given the scandals of recent times, including exhibitions organized with fakes and dubious operations? The answer will come in the coming months; in the meantime, the date is in northern France.

Modý was less maudit than people think. In France, the exhibition that reveals Modigliani's secrets
Modý was less maudit than people think. In France, the exhibition that reveals Modigliani's secrets