Modigliani drawing exhibition reveals female Russian poet’s influence

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London Art Week show traces development of artist’s distinctive style

Kneeling Blue Caryatid, around 1911, may be modelled on Russian writer Akhmatova’s features

An unprecedented exhibition of 16 drawings by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), on show at Harris Lindsay gallery in London (until 11 July) as part of London Art Week, demonstrates the impact a major female Russian poet had on the artist’s distinctive style and sensibility.

The exhibition has been arranged by the long-standing art adviser, Richard Nathanson, who specialises in Impressionist and 20th-century art. “The drawings, [dating from around 1908 to 1911] show Modigliani’s rapid progression towards and realisation of his unique artistic voice,” he writes in the introduction to the exhibition.

The works were given to Dr Paul Alexandre, the artist’s principal patron until 1914, by Modigliani. Alexandre wrote in a draft letter: “I must confine myself strictly to the period between 1908 and the early months of 1914. During those years, I saw him [Modigliani] almost every day, shared his plans, his likes and dislikes… the preparatory sketches and finished drawings allow one to follow his development, step by step, stroke by stroke, during those decisive years.”

Each of the drawings is stamped with the Paul Alexandre collection mark. “All of the drawings, except Kneeling Blue Caryatid, around 1911, have come by direct descent to the present owners,” Nathanson says. The works range from £28,000 to £650,000.

Two of the drawings are indebted to the Russian writer Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), who met Modigliani in 1910 during her honeymoon in Paris. “Modigliani was captivated by Akhmatova’s extraordinary beauty, her nobility and statuesque presence which he saw mirrored in the women of ancient Egypt,” Nathanson says.

Standing Female Nude in Profile with Lighted Candle, around 1911, reflects Modigliani’s fascination with ancient Egyptian female figures; the head and posture indeed recall the elongated, sensuous forms found on pyramids and temples.

“Modigliani saw in Akhmatova’s graceful, mysterious presence and the musical, dancing movement of her nubile body, the very qualities that captivated him in the Egyptian reliefs of dancers and deities he repeatedly took her to see in the Louvre during their brief time together,” Nathanson says. The fringe and oval-shaped face of the figure depicted in Kneeling Blue Caryatid may also be modelled on Akhmatova’s features.

All of the works on display are included in “The Unknown Modigliani”, a volume of 450 pre-1914 drawings published by Umberto Allemandi (the founder of The Art Newspaper) in 1993. The monograph, compiled by Paul Alexandre’s son Noël, is the only publication devoted to a single collection of the artist’s drawings, Nathanson says.

The estate of the early 20th-century artist is, however, one of the most problematic in the art world. There are at least five catalogues raisonnés of the artist’s work including a volume by Ambrogio Ceroni, last updated in 1972.

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