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March 2023

Modigliani sur la Côte d’Azur

“The artist painted his only adult self portrait here”

After 5 years of research and writing, author Alain Amiel has published a book about Modigliani’s time on the Riviera, and has identified almost 70 canvases painted between Nice and Cagnes-sur-Mer.

By Tanja Stojanov 
Femme en robe jaune ou la belle espagnole (Mme Modot), 1918, huile sur toile, 92 x 60 cm, Collection particulière, Paris.
Fillette en bleu, 1918, huile sur toile, 116 x 73 cm, Collection particulière.

Modigliani on the Côte d’Azur

Biographies of Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) always describe his arrival in the South after fleeing the German bombardments in the capital. “The artist had tuberculosis and his dealer, Leopold Zborowski, persuaded him to come to the Côte d'Azur with his partner, Jeanne Hébuterne, with whom he was very much in love. He made several trips there between March 1918 and May 1919,” says art critic Alain Amiel. “Modigliani then returned to Paris, where he died a few months later on 24 January. This period on the Riviera was very poorly documented and only a few paintings were identified as having been painted in the region. So I started my research after visiting the house in which the artist was born, in Livorno, Italy.”

In the heights of the old village of Cagnes

The art historian was able to gather valuable information while working on this long-term project, particularly in the biography written by Jeanne Modigliani – the painter’s daughter, who was born in the maternity hospital of Saint-Roch in Nice, and who was named after her mother – as well as in the book Modigliani et Zborowski, written by Anna Zborowska, wife of the art dealer and a friend of the artist. “Modigliani did not date his works or mention where they were painted, so I had to compare the information I had with the paintings and their subjects. He painted a total of almost 70 canvases between Nice and Cagnes-sur-Mer in 13 months,” says Alain Amiel. These pieces include a number of magnificent portraits of friends and people he met in the region, such as the great silent film actor Gaston Modot, the painter Leopold Survage, as well as his beloved
Jeanne. When Amedeo died, “Jeannette” com-mitted suicide two days later, taking their second child with her in her womb.


Staring at us with absent expressions

“Modigliani studied in Florence, Venice and Rome. In the South of France, he rediscovered a little of the atmosphere of his native Italy, which he missed a lot in Paris. He ate in Italian restaurants in Old Nice. While we were in the midst of the birth of abstraction, he continued to make his posed portraits almost without decoration. In our region, his palette became lighter and brighter,” continues the art critic.
With their sinuous lines, his paintings are intensely fluid and highly expressive, their elongated bodies and necks characteristic of the artist. The portraits made in the heights of Cagnes-sur-Mer bear witness to this: Le Fils du Concierge, the Fillette en bleu and the Jeune homme en blouse bleue with their blank expres-sions. This gallery of portraits depicts children and adolescents from the village. In Cagnes, the artist also painted four landscapes, the only ones that we know by him other than a view of the surroundings of Livorno. In his Self Portrait of 1919, he depicts himself with an emaciated face, sunken cheeks and a palette in his hand. “It is the only self portrait he made except for the one as Pierrot, painted in Paris in 1915,” concludes Alain Amiel. The art critic’s book represents an essential work of research for the history of art and that of our region, which we hope will one day become the subject of an exhibition.


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