MODIGLIANI: The Pure Bohemian by June Rose

MODIGLIANI: The Pure Bohemian

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Colorful biography of the painter Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), set against the art world of Paris during the first two decades of the century. Modigliani, explains British biographer Rose (Elizabeth Fry, 1981--not reviewed), was the product of an upper-class Jewish-Italian family. After art studies in Livorno, Florence, and Venice, where he spent more time in cafes and brothels than in class, he arrived in Paris in 1906, seeking fame and fortune. Within weeks, the somber reality of poverty set in--moving from seedy hotel to seedy hotel, he wound up living in a wooden shack in Montmartre. There, and later in Montparnasse, he met many of the foremost artists, writers, and ""characters"" of the day, including Picasso, Soutine, Utrillo, Cocteau, Hans Arp, and Fernand LÉger. Because of his success with women, Modigliani had easy access to free models (""Women of a beauty worth painting or sculpting often seem encumbered by their clothes,"" he said). Rose seems tom between downplaying what she refers to as the ""Modigliani myth"" and relating dozens of stories that have served to create that myth. Included are accounts of how Modigliani danced wildly in the moonlight with a famous courtesan; of how one of his first collectors was a senior police official who first met the painter when he was jailed for drunkenness; and of how the artist's only one-man gallery show was closed ""for indecency"" the day it opened. Rose does attempt to disentangle fact from fiction as she meticulously cites her sources for each anecdote, and she points out that it is the work that distinguishes the artist, not the antics. The day after Modigliani died from tubercular meningitis at age 35, his young wife killed herself. Prices for his paintings have skyrocketed ever since. Despite the somewhat misleading subtitle, this is not a paean to la vie de la bohème, but a tragic story of art transcending life.

Pub Date: Nov. 21st, 1991
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: St. Martin's