Modigliani

Standing Female Nude in Profile with Lighted Candle  c.1911

 

 

Black crayon, 16 7/8 x 10 3/8 inches; 42.9 x 26.4 cms                                                                              

Stamped with the Paul Alexandre collection mark.                                                                                   

 

Provenance:      Dr Paul Alexandre, Paris, to whom it was given by Modigliani.

                          By descent to the present owner.

         

Reproduced:      The Unknown Modigliani, Noël Alexandre.  Full Page 179  [No. 88]. 

                          Published by Fonds Mercator, 1993.

                        

 

The above book, written by Paul Alexandre’s youngest son Noël, is dedicated:

 

To my friend Richard Nathanson whose enthusiasm and artistic sensibility have encouraged me to publish this account.

 

Exhibited:       Modigliani Drawings from The Collection of Paul Alexandre at:

 

                         Venice,     Palazzo Grassi, September 1993 - January 1994.

                         London,   Royal Academy, January - April 1994

                         Tokyo,      Ueno Royal Museum, October - December 1994.

                         Bruges,     Centro D’Arte, San Giovanni, 1994.

                         Montréal,  Museum of Fine Art, February - April 1996.  

                         Rouen,      Musée des Beaux Arts, July - October 1996.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only with the publication of Noël Alexandre’s The Unknown Modigliani has the all-important presence in Modigliani’s art of the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova in Modigliani's art, began to be recognized and understood.

 

Anna Akhmatova [1889-1966] is considered, with Boris Pasternak and Osip Mandelstam, the greatest Russian poet of the twentieth century. She met Modigliani in 1910 during her first visit to Paris, on honeymoon with her husband. They corresponded throughout the winter. And she returned alone early in 1911 when they became very close.

 

Akhmatova’s poetic gift; charismatic beauty and elongated, sensual body struck a unique chord with Modigliani; and influenced the course of his art at a critical juncture in his development. There can be little doubt that she inspired this drawing.

 

The head and stylised posture – also the figure’s motionless movement – reflect the ancient Egyptian female figures that so moved Modigliani, among them the above two reliefs in the Louvre.

 

In her memoirs, Akhmatova describes Modigliani’s passion for Egyptian art:

 

He used to rave about Egypt, At the Louvre he showed me the Egyptian collection and told me there was no point I see anything else ‘tout le reste’. He drew my head bedecked with the jewellery of Egyptian queens and dancers, and seemed totally overawed by the majesty of Egyptian art.

 

In stating that Modigliani cared only for Egyptian art, Akhmatova unwittingly gives us a fascinating and touching insight into his absolute single-mindedness. For we know that he was inspired by diverse cultures and visited other museums. Akhmatova’s imminent return to Russia; and Modigliani’s obsessive need, during their few precious weeks together, to study her as frequently as possible among the Egyptian queens and goddesses, so he might more vividly portray her in their guise, seems the only possible explanation for her claim.

 

Modigliani saw in Akhmatova’s graceful, mysterious being and the dancing movement of her nubile body, the very qualities that captivated him in the Egyptian reliefs of deities and dancers he repeatedly took her to see in the Louvre; and which for him came alive in her presence.

 

That these carvings had been buried with the individuals they commemorated, to comfort and accompany their spirits into the next world, would have accorded with Modigliani’s own mystical nature; and with his desire to preserve and celebrate for all time that same timeless, poetic grace and beauty he saw in Akhmatova.

 

She had a dancer’s body. As an adolescent she was five foot eleven inches tall, and so lithe and supple that she could easily touch the nape of her neck when she lay prone.

 

K. Chukosky, Novyi Mir, March 1987.

 

Valeriya Sreznevskaya, a lifelong friend, remembers Akhmatova as:

 

a sparkling water sprite, an avid wanderer on foot, climbed like a cat, and swam like a fish...Another feature that marked Akhmatova off from the others was her somnambulism, her moon-walking. On moonlit nights, a thin girl could be seen in a white nightdress walking along the roof of their house in her sleep. 

 

The figure portrayed in this drawing seems at one with these memories.

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst the forehead and nose derive from Egyptian art, there is, in this photograph of Akhmatova, the same shaped head, mouth, chin and jaw-line that is portrayed in this drawing.

 

The closed eyes and sensual body poised, as though in an erotic trance, above a single, symbolical, lit candle, reflect something of the intense, transformative relationship so vividly described by Akhmatova in my essay on the Kneeling Blue Caryatid.

 

 

 

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