“Fuck this shit, I’ll just colour it,” the visitor attempted to channel the modern master Amedeo Modigliani whilst staring at the rough, dark brushstrokes in the background of a humbly sitting servant. Clearly, he wasn’t inspired by the distinctively stylised art, nor was he mesmerised by the model’s deeply dark, melancholic, almond-shaped unforgettable eyes.
Oh, wait. Or was it another woman? I’m getting lost in these Tate galleries, full of sensual figures and mysterious eyes. The legend goes many of the posers were romantically involved with Modigliani. In spite of his fragile health, he led a promiscuous life.
A hundred years ago these nudes represented modernism and liberated women. In today’s context, this kind of portraiture might be classified as sexism: do women really have to be naked to get into the museum?! Excuse me, I see no male nudes here! Completely misbalanced. There’s a fine line between art and various sorts of social and political battles. Well, in Modigliani’s defence, I can only say, one should always pursue his passion (not unconditionally, of course – here I remember Harvey Weinstein).
Maybe it’s safe to stick solely to the aesthetic aspect of art. Aren’t these women vivaciously gorgeous? Gorgeously confident. As confident as the artist who courageously depicted pubic hair, which made the police shut his first and last solo exhibition down on its opening day in 1917. You know, women were smooth and hairless back then, at least on canvas. Ahhh... and people say Instagram's distorted reality is only inherent to our generation.
After all Modigliani had a heart, too. His lover Jeanne Hébuterne was one of a kind to him. Her portrait emerges in front of me a few times. I’m staring at her eyes and can’t stop wondering, how did she learn to love this troubled individual so much that killing herself and her unborn child was the only way to get rid of the pain caused by the loss? When Modigliani lost his battle against tuberculosis at the age of 35, Hébuterne leapt to her death from the window of the fifth-floor garret they shared.
Regardless of the short troublesome life, Modigliani developed a distinctive style, which wasn't always accepted or understood. A poet Jean Cocteau wasn't amazed by his portrait and paid Modigliani back with irony: “[he] does not elongate faces, does not accent their asymmetry, does not put out an eye, does not lengthen a neck. It is all organised.”
Not every art lover is into material, straightforward reality or ancient ideals. Some are looking for the expression of an artist's soul, for the revelations of a sitter's inner life... Years later the painting was sold for a solid amount of money.
“It does not look like me, but it does look like Modigliani which is better,” Cocteau admitted eventually. Perhaps he didn't dare to ask, what Modigliani discovered within his restless soul.
There was a portrait I came back to twice. Unknown young Parisian, maybe from bohemian Montparnasse just like the artist himself. Mystery and emotional openness are blended in her brown eyes. It seems Modigliani did know her soul after all, as her melancholic eyes tell a story. It’s more than sadness. What is it then? Might it be daydreaming or longing for the lost days?
The exhibition is open at Tate Modern until 2 April 2018.