Modigliani the Sculptor

By Alfred Werner; Amedeo Modigliani | Go to book overview

shapes, then the efforts of the publishers and of all those who aided the writer in the difficult task of assembling the scattered pictorial material and biographical evidence will not have been in vain.

Classically firm, never cold; wise, but not overintellectual; representational and abstract at the same time, these haunting stone figures are certainly the most complete and perfect aesthetic transfigurations of Modigliani's inner imagery.



The painter Moise Kisling and another friend tried to take Modigliani's death mask, but not being sculptors, they were inadequate to the task, and secured the help of Jacques Lipchitz. The mask exudes a serenity and repose that Modigliani seems to have lacked completely in life.
Before Brancusi, Picasso may have meant most to Modigliani, though the Spaniard was only three years older and had, so far, produced barely more than a half dozen pieces of sculpture. "Picasso would give it a kick if he saw it," Modigliani said to a visitor, Louis Latourette, who had come to his Montmartre studio and admired the torso of an actress. "That's only a misfire," Modigliani explained, and added: "One should judge without sentimentality. After all, that's only to begin again in another and better way. In any case, I've half a mind to chuck painting altogether and stick to sculpture, which I prefer."
But according to Jeanne Modigliani, her father did not discover Nadelman's sculpture until 1913 (at the second one-man show at the Calerie Druet).
Lipchitz erred only insofar as several stone heads-not necessarily identical with those he saw-were exhibited in 1912, in the tenth Salon. The catalogue lists seven heads ("a decorative ensemble") by Modigliani. A year earlier, Modigliani had shown several sculptures at the studio of his Portuguese-born painter-friend Amedeo de Suza Cardoso, on Rue du Colonel Combes.
A small marble head is owned by Jean Masurel in Roubaix, France. Most other extant stone carvings by Modigliani are made of limestone such as the Pierre d'Euville which is quarried near a small town in eastern France, south of Verdun (it has a sandy or granular appearance, generally gray to buff colored, and is softer and easier to carve than marble, but, because of its physical structure which is less compact than that of marble, it does not take a high polish). He liked to obtain stones shaped like columns or pillars, and always retained the original form of the stone into which he would hew or scratch the significant details. At one point Modigliani turned to wood, probably to avoid the unpleasant physical effects he suffered from working in stone. To obtain this wood, he is said to have stolen, with the aid of a painter friend, railroad ties from a nearby Métro station. Douglas must have seen several of the wood carvings, for he writes that all were "exactly of the dimensions of railway crossties." With the exception of the one sold at auction in 1951 and reproduced in this book, they have disappeared. They shared the fate of the sculptures polychromes mentioned by Zadkine. One also wonders what to make of a recollection, to be found in From Renoir to Picasso, by Michel Georges-Michel: "In the gardens of a big industrialist on the Riviera, I saw a number of admirable statues by Modigliani, and, among others, one that he had carved for his own tomb and that of his wife . . ." There is no additional information to be found anywhere! Once Modigliani, as was his habit, helped himself to a stone in a building lot one evening after the laborers had gone home. He worked on it for hours, then, leaving his sculpture half-finished, returned home. When he came back the next morning, the statue had disappeared-it had somehow been incorporated into the building.
We know now that many tribes had real, professional artists (see Africa: The Art of the Negro Peoples, by Elsy Leuzinger ). The affinity between Modigliani's art and Negro sculpture is now generally accepted. When, in April 1951, Perls Galleries in New York hung drawings by Modigliani alongside masks and figures from the Ivory Coast, valuable light was shed on the formation of Modigliani's style.
If Modigliani ever had formulated his ideas in writing, they could have been almost identical with those expressed by a younger contemporary, the American John B. Flannagan, who wrote as follows: "To that instrument of the subconscious, the hand of the sculptor, there exists an image within every rock. The creative act of realization merely frees it . . ." According to Flannagan, the sculptor's goal is ". . . the austere elimination of the accidental for ordered simplification . . . the greatest possible preservation of cubic compactness . . . even to preserve the identity of the original rock so that it hardly seems carved."


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Modigliani the Sculptor
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page III
  • Table of Contents VII
  • Publisher's Note IX
  • Modigliani The Sculptor XI
  • Footnotes XXVII
  • Selected Bibliography XXIX
  • Catalogue Of Plates XXXI


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