Amedeo Modigliani. Part 4 – His lovers and the tragic end.

Modigliani - the woman's
Modigliani – the woman’s man

Today’s blog is the final one of four about the life of Amedeo Modigliani, the Livorno-born artist, who at the age of twenty-two moved to Paris where he lived out the last fourteen years of his life.  As an artist he employed a number of models for his works of art and like many artists of the time the relationship between artist and model became much more than just a working relationship.   Mothers were horrified if their daughters agreed to model for the artists, as an artist’s model was looked upon as just being one step from being his lover and thus the artist model was accused of almost prostituting herself in the name of art.  It is almost certain that Modigliani had very close and intimate relationships with his models as he believed, in the case of his female nude portrayals, to achieve a great painting he had first to make love to the model !  I wonder if that is how he sold that argument to the model !!!  However one must remember that Modigliani for all his faults and transgressions was an extremely handsome man.  Although the models, who sat for his nude collection, are unknown we do know that he had intimate and serious relationships with three named women and it is those ladies, who featured in many of his works of art that I would like to highlight in today’s blog. 

Anna Modigliani (c. 1911)
Anna Akhmatova by Modigliani (c. 1911)

In 1910, whilst living in Paris, Modigliani met Anna Akmahtova.  Anna was born Anna Gorenko, in Odessa in 1889, and was five years younger than Modigliani.  She came from a well-to-do family and from an early age was fascinated by poetry.  Her love of poetry was denounced by her parents as being foolish, self-indulgent and something which would they feared would have a corrupt influence on their daughter.  However she persisted and started writing poetry when she was just eleven years of age and had her first works published when she was seventeen. She would become one of Russia’s greatest twentieth century poets.   

Anna Akhmatova as ‘Acrobat’ by Modigliani
Anna Akhmatova as ‘Acrobat’ by Modigliani

The one person who constantly encouraged Anna to write her poetry was the young Russian poet, Nikolay Gumilev.  However, to placate her parents all her writings were published under her pseudonym, Akhmatova, which was the surname of her maternal grandmother.  After a prolonged “chase” Nikolay finally persuaded Anna to marry him but in a letter to her friend she outlined how she was unsure that she had made the right decision.  She wrote about her feelings for her future husband:

“…He has loved me for three years now, and I believe that it is my fate to be his wife. Whether or not I love him, I do not know, but it seems to me that I do…” 

The couple were married in Kiev in April 1910.  Her family were totally against the marriage and refused to attend the service.  The young couple left Russia and travelled to Paris for their short honeymoon and it was then that she met and became a friend of Amedeo Modigliani, who like her, had a love of poetry.  Modigliani was undoubtedly attracted by her beauty as well as her poetry.  She was slim and elegant and everywhere she went in Paris, men’s heads would turn to admire her good looks.  Her husband was unimpressed by this attention and especially with the attention Modigliani gave his wife.  Anna returned to Russia with her husband but she and Modigliani continued to correspond for the next twelve months.  He was obsessed with her.  His letters to Anna became ever more intense and passionate and Anna recalled her short time with him during her honeymoon and their correspondence.  In a letter to a friend, she wrote:

“…In 1910, I saw him very rarely, just a few times. But he wrote to me during the whole winter. I remember some sentences from his letters. One was: Vous êtes en moi comme une hantise (You are obsessively part of me). He did not tell me that he was writing poems…”

In 1911 she returned alone to Paris and met up with Modigliani and this was the start of a short but passionate love affair.  Their affair had to remain a secret.  She dared not be seen in public with Modigliani in the guise of his lover in case word of it got back to her husband in Russia.  The affair lasted just two months and Anna returned to St Petersburg and her husband and never saw Modigliani again.

Beatrice Hastings
Beatrice Hastings

The second lady with whom Modigliani had an affair was Beatrice Hastings.  Beatrice was born in London in 1879, and was five years older than Modigliani.  She was the fifth of seven children.  Her real name was actually Emily Alice Haigh, but she used Hastings as her pen name.  Her father was John Walker Haigh, a Yorkshire wool trader.  He and his family immigrated to South Africa in the 1880’s.  Beatrix was a writer, poet and literary critic, and wrote extensively for the weekly British political and literary magazine, New Age.   During her life, she had a number of lovers, both men and women.  She was a fiery and self-willed character and in her youth caused her parents innumerable problems.  She was briefly married to Alexander Hasting, whom she said was a boxer.  Although a headstrong person she was also very able and was a talented singer and a gifted pianist.  She moved to Paris in April 1914 as a correspondent for the New Age journal, just before the onset of the First World War.  She contributed a regular column until 1916, entitled Impressions de Paris, which went down well with the English public who wanted to know about the bohemian lifestyle of the Parisian literati and the bohemian lifestyle of the Montmartre artists. 

Beatrice Hastings by Modigliani (1915)
Beatrice Hastings by Modigliani (1915)

Beatrice first set eyes on Modigliani in July 1914 when she was in the Café Rosalie in Paris.  Later she was introduced to him by a mutual friend, the sculptor, Ossip Zadkine, at La Rotonde café, which was situated in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris.  It was a famous café, opened in 1911 by Victor Libion, and was a favourite haunt of the aspiring writers and artists of the time, such as Picasso and Diego Rivera.   In her memoirs, Beatrix recalled those first meetings with Modigliani.  She wrote:

“…A complex character.  A swine and a pearl.  I sat opposite him. Hashish and brandy.  Not at all impressed.  Didn’t know who he was. He looked ugly, ferocious, greedy.  Met him again at the Café Rotonde. He was shaved and charming. Raised his cap with a pretty gesture, blushed to his eyes and asked me to come and see his work  And I went.  He always had a book in his pocket.  Lautremont’s Maldoror.  The first painting was of Kisling.  He had no respect for anyone except Picasso and Max Jacob.  Detested Cocteau.  Never completed anything good under the influence of hashish…”

Modigliani was thirty and she was thirty-five when they first met.   He was down on his luck, almost penniless despite his mother still sending a monthly allowance but which was frittered away on alcohol and drugs.   The sale of his paintings had almost dried up and what he did sell went for a few francs.  His former patron Paul Alexandre, an avid buyer of his work, had gone to fight at the Front and at this time, he had nobody to promote or sell his art. 

Portrait of Beatrice Hastings before a door bny Modigliani (1915)
Portrait of Beatrice Hastings before a door bny Modigliani (1915)

Beatrice and Modigliani had a stormy love affair, which was to last until 1916.  In 1915 Modigliani moved in to Beatrix’s flat in the Rue Norvain which was on the Butte Montmartre.  In those two years they were together, Beatrice became Modigliani’s favourite model and he immortalised her in many of his paintings. 

Jeanne Hébuterne
Jeanne Hébuterne

Modigliani’s final love affair was with Jeanne Hébuterne.   Jeanne was born in Paris in April 1898 and was fourteen years younger than Modigliani.  Her elder brother André was an aspiring artist and he introduced Jeanne to many of the artists who lived around Montparnasse, some of whom she modelled for.  Following her own desire to become an artist she enrolled in 1917 at the Académie Colarossi and it was whilst studying at this establishment that she was introduced to Modigliani.  If nothing else, Modigliani was a woman’s man who had a certain magnetism and charisma which charmed the females he encountered.  She was nineteen and he was thirty-three.  She was a very beautiful young woman with the most amazing almond-shaped eyes.  She was slim, pale-skinned and had long light-brown braids.  Jeanne soon fell under his magical charm and before long, the pair became lovers.  They were very much in love and after a short while, she moved in to his lodgings on Rue de la Grande Chaumière.  Her parents, who were staunch Catholics, were horrified with this turn of events – their daughter had taken up with a penniless artist, shared his bed and to make things worse he was Jewish. 

Jeanne Hebuterne with Hat and Necklace by Modigliani (1917)
Jeanne Hebuterne with Hat and Necklace by Modigliani (1917)

Jeanne was all Modigliani could ask for.  Besides her beauty which he admired, she seemed to be his soul mate.  For her it was a case of “unconditional love”.  She asked for very little in return from Amedeo and she put up with his excessive drinking.  In 1918, despite the terror of the First World War, Jeanne became pregnant.  If the horrors of war and being pregnant were not enough of a burden, Modigliani’s health was in decline.  It was fortuitous that two years earlier Modigliani had struck up a friendship with a Polish émigré and small-time art dealer Léopold Zborowski.  The art dealer had initiated a deal with Modigliani, that in return for his paintings, he would provide him with comfortable lodgings and studio space.  Now in 1918, Zborowski once again came to Modigliani’s rescue by arranging for him and Hébuterne to leave Paris and go to the warmer climes of Provence in Southern France and it was here on November 29th 1918, in the town of Nice that Jeanne gave birth to Modigliani’s daughter, Jeanne. 

Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne by Modigliani (1919)
Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne by Modigliani (1919)

Modigliani, Jeanne and their daughter returned to Paris in the Spring of 1919 and that summer Jeanne became pregnant once again.  In August of that year Modigliani was supposed to have gone to London to be present at an exhibition of some of his work but by then he was much too ill to travel.  Although he continued to paint, it was becoming increasingly more difficult as he would frequently have to stop to lie down and rest.  Eventually by the end of 1919 he was bed-ridden.  On January 22nd 1920 he was found unconscious in the apartment and was rushed to the pauper’s Hôpital de la Charité.  Two days later he died.  The medical report stated that he choked on his own blood.  The official cause of death was tubercular meningitis.  Reputedly his last words harked back to his love for the country where he was born.  His dying words being:

“…Italia, Cara, Italia…”

Amedeo Modigliani 1919. The  year before his death
Amedeo Modigliani 1919.
The year before his death

His girlfriend, Jeanne Hébuterne,whom he had promised to marry, and who was eight months pregnant with Modigliani’s second child was inconsolable.  She had been staying at her parents’ apartment whilst Modigliani was in hospital and her loss was so great that at 3am the day after her lover had died, she threw herself out of her parents’ fifth floor apartment window, killing herself and her unborn child.  Her parents had her buried in a grave in the Paris suburb of Bagneux with little ceremony, mortified and embarrassed at the life she had led with Modigliani and the way in which she had decided to end her own life.  Modigliani’s mother was unhappy that her son and the mother of his child were not at rest together and fought hard for this to be achieved.  Modigliani’s mother was also adamant that Jeanne’s daughter should be recognised as her son’s child. 

Amedeo Modigliani and Jeanne Hébuterne's  grave at Piere Lachaise Cemetry Paris
Amedeo Modigliani and Jeanne Hébuterne’s grave at Piere Lachaise Cemetry Paris

After three years of arguing with Jeanne’s parents, the body of Jeanne Hébuternes was exhumed and laid to rest in Modigliani’s grave at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and their daughter, Jeanne Hébuternes, who by this time was three and a half years old was recognised as Modigliani’s daughter, took his surname and inherited her share (one-fifth) of the proceeds from the sale of his paintings.  The dealers retained four-fifths! 

Having read so much about Modigliani I have tried hard not to be too judgemental.  It would be easy to say that he brought about his own downfall with his extensive use of drugs and bouts of heavy drinking but I think we need to look more carefully at his physical state before we pass judgement.  From his pre-teens days we know he had been unwell with pleurisy and later tuberculosis.  Tuberculosis at the time was a killer disease which was highly infectious and one train of thought is that Modigliani’s use of drugs and alcohol was not only to ease his suffering but was to mask his illness.  Unfortunately we are only too well aware how one can become drug and alcohol dependent and that, as was the case of Maurice Utrillo who had suffered a similar addiction due to mental issues, happened to Modigliani who had become totally reliant on alcohol and drugs. 

I have enjoyed looking at all Modigliani’s paintings and despite some who believe his drug and alcohol abuse added to his artistic talent I believe that had he been a well man, drug and alcohol-free, and lived longer, then who knows what masterpiece.

For those of you who would like to read more about Modigliani, try looking at these websites:

Amedeo Modigliani. Part 3. The female nude paintings

I have changed my intended blog for today.  At the end of my last blog, I said that in the next one I would conclude Modigliani’s life story and look at some of the women in his life.  However, after careful consideration, I decided that it would not be right to end Modigliani’s life story without looking at his favourite artistic genre, the painting of female nudes.  In all between 1916 and 1919 he completed no fewer than twenty-six paintings of female nudes, some of whom are seated whilst others are seen lying back languorously.

We know that Amedeo’s love of painting females nude started back in Livorno where, at the age of fourteen, he attended the Villa Baiocchi workshop of the artist Guglielmo Micheli.  Later in 1902, when his mother took him away from their home in Livorno to aid his failing health, they visited Florence and in May 1902, just before his eighteenth birthday, he enrolled at the Scuola Libera di Nudo of the city’s Accademia di Belle Arti which was the beginning of his serious study of life drawing and which cultivated his love of painting female nudes.  In 1903 when he was in Venice he enrolled at the life drawing classes at the Accademia di Belle Arti and three years later, when he arrived in Paris at the end of 1906, he attended the Académie Colarossi where he attended life drawing classes.  The Académie Colarossi was a private institution, founded at the end of the nineteenth century, which offered its students an alternative to the very formalised state Academies.  It was very progressive and it is certain that Modigliani received some alternative approaches on how to depict the female nude.  In the Académie Colarossi life-drawing classes the students were encouraged to decide themselves on how the model should pose.  This was totally contrary to the strict rules and formalisation imposed by the likes of the state Académie des Beaux-Arts.

Without doubt, Modigliani’s most powerful compositions are his female nude paintings.  There is something simplistic and yet graceful about them but such simplicity does not decrease the erotic and sensuous nature of the works.  In many cases one feels that he has drawn upon earlier female nude paintings by other great artists for the resultant poses of his sitters.  The Italian art critic Giovanni Scheiwiller, who wrote a biography of Modigliani, wrote of the artist’s nude paintings and the artist’s relationship with his sitters, saying:

“…[it was] a completely spiritual unity between the artist and the creature he has chosen as his model…”

This bond between Modigliani and his models of course led to many racy stories of his penchant for the fairer sex and his belief that to completely capture  the inner beauty of his female sitter he must first make love to them!  It is maybe this kind of legend that contributes to our desire to see his work. 

Nude on a Blue Cushion by Modigliani (1917) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Nude on a Blue Cushion by Modigliani (1917)
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Let us first look at Amedeo Modigliani’s oil on linen work entitled Nude on a Blue Cushion, which he completed in 1917.  It is part of the Chester Dale Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.  The naked female lies back against a blue cushion and looks out at us with a challenging stare.  There is no hint of her being shy or introverted.  The look she gives us is one that almost suggests that she is tempting us with her body, which she is very proud of.  

Olympia by Edouard Manet (1863)
Olympia by Edouard Manet (1863)

If one looks at the famous 1863 painting, Olympia, by Edouard Manet (see My Daily Art Display Oct 12th 2011) we see in the sitter’s posture the same brazen look as she awaits her next client. 

Sleeping Nude with Arms Open (Red Nude) by Modigliani (1917) Gianni Mattioli Collection, Milan
Sleeping Nude with Arms Open (Red Nude) by Modigliani (1917)
Gianni Mattioli Collection, Milan

In his 1917 work entitled Sleeping Nude with Arms Open (Red Nude) Modigliani has depicted the female laying back on a red blanket.  Her right arm lies at the side of her head whilst her left hand is placed beneath her head.  She is unashamedly offering her body to us.

La Maja Desnuda by Goya (c1800)
La Maja Desnuda by Goya (c1800)

This pose is very like Goya’s female nude painting entitled, La Maja Desnuda (My Daily Art Display Sept 9th 2012), which he painted around 1800.  She too lies naked before us albeit her upper torso is propped up by cushions but she, like Modigliani’s female has her hands behind her head.   Despite her very revealing pose, there is a certain vulnerability about Modigliani’s female in this work.  Her eyes are closed and we have therefore no idea of what she is thinking.  Our eyes are drawn to her red lips which are full and slightly pouted.  In a way it is as if she is giving herself to us.  She is offering us her ultimate gift – her body. 

Nude with Coral Neclace by Modigliani (1917) Allen Memorial Art Museum Oberlin College, Ohio
Nude with Coral Neclace by Modigliani (1917)
Allen Memorial Art Museum Oberlin College, Ohio

In another female nude painting which Modigliani completed in 1917 entitled Nude with a Coral Necklace and which is housed in the Allen Memorial College at Oberlin, Ohio, we can see a similarity between the pose of the Modigliani’s female sitter with the poses of the females in two of the greatest nude paintings of all times, Giorgione’s 1508 painting entitled, Sleeping Venus

Sleeping Venus by Giorgione (c.1508)
Sleeping Venus by Giorgione (c.1508)

and Titian’s 1558 work entitled, Venus of Urbino (My Daily Art Display Feb 15th 2011). 

Venus of Urbino by Titian (1538)
Venus of Urbino by Titian (1538)

In all three cases the models left hand is placed between her thighs in an effort to retain a modicum of modesty.  In the Modigliani’s work our eyes are drawn to her breasts because of his use of red to depict the areolas.  Unlike the other nude works the face of the women in this painting shows a hardness which I believe counteracts any sensuality.  Her facial expression differs from the other female nudes.  Her almond shaped eyes and tight-lipped mouth warn us off.  There is no hint of a “come-hither” look about this woman. 

Red-haired Young Woman in Chemise by Modigliani (1918)
Red-haired Young Woman in Chemise by Modigliani (1918)

His nude painting Red-haired Young Woman in Chemise was completed by Modigliani in 1918 in some ways reminds one of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus

Botticelli's Venus
Botticelli’s Venus

Although in this work she is seated, she, like Botticelli’s nude, inclines her head slightly to one side and her right hand lies across her body, over her heart and touches her breast.  There is a definite sensuality about Modigliani’s painting in the way he has depicted the woman with her head at an angle.  She clutches her white chemise in an attempt to cover herself but she has failed.  The strap of the chemise has slid down her left shoulder.  Her right breast is fully exposed whilst her right hand hides her left breast from our view.   The way Modigliani has depicted her mouth with reddened lips, which are slightly parted, adds to the eroticism of this work.  Her facial expression is one of inquisitiveness as if she is questioning our presence. 

Female Nude by Modigliani (1916)
Female Nude by Modigliani (1916)

Of all his female nude paintings, my favourite is the one which hangs in the Courtaulds Gallery in London.  It is simply entitled Female Nude and was completed by Modigliani in 1916.  The female in this work is seated, which is unlike most of his other female nude works.  Her head rests on her shoulder.  Her eyes are closed.  Her full lips touch the delicate skin of her chest.  Her long black hair cascades down her back, but a few strands lie delicately across her right breast.  The unknown female sitter holds a demure expression.  Hers is an hour-glass figure.  The shading and the skin tone Modigliani has used reveals a slight swelling of her stomach.   She is a veritable beauty.  Once again the figure has an elongated face, a trademark of Modigliani.  Her cheeks are flushed with a rose-coloured tint.  Is this a sign of her embarrassment at posing for Modigliani or is she just being coy?  The painting was completed a year before he set about painting his large series of female nudes and was at a time when he was engaged in painting portraits of his friends and lovers. 

Vénus (Nu debout, nu médicis) by Modigliani (1917)
Vénus (Nu debout, nu médicis) by Modigliani (1917)

Modigliani’s works command very high prices.  The Modigliani Venus which he completed in 1917 when it last came up for sale had an estimated price of between $6 and $9 million but it sold for $14,200,000  and his work Nu assis au collier (Seated Nude with Necklace) had, in 1995, sold for $12.5 million. 

Seated Nude on Divan by Modigliani (1917)
Seated Nude on Divan
Nu assis sur un divan (La Belle Romaine)
by Modigliani (1917)

However the highest price paid for a Modigliani nude came in November 2010 when his painting Nu assis sur un divan (La Belle Romaine), came up at Sotheby’s New York auction.  Its estimated price was $40 million but with five bidders competing for the work its sale price reached $68.9 million, four times the price it realised when it was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999.    

Price Evolution in Modigliani's paintings
Price Evolution in Modigliani’s paintings

I came across an interesting graph (above) on the website ( which showed how Modigliani’s paintings have consistently risen in value.   Who says art is a bad investment?   

Poster for Berthe Weill's 1917 exhibition of Modigliani's works
Poster for Berthe Weill’s 1917 exhibition of Modigliani’s works

I could not end this blog about Modigliani’s nude paintings without recounting the well known tale of Modigliani’s first and only, one-man show which his patron and friend, Leopold Zborovski had managed to cajole the art dealer Berthe Weill to hold at her Paris gallery, Galerie B. Weill.  Weill had first opened her gallery in 1901 and in 1917 moved to a more spacious one at 50 rue Taitbout in Paris’ 9th arrondissement, close to the Paris Opera.  Weill was dedicated to the cause of giving young up-and-coming artists, like Modigliani a chance to become recognised.  Over almost forty years, until the gallery closed in 1939, works by all the modern greats such as Raoul Dufy, Kees van Dongen, André Derain, Georges Braque,Vlaminck, Diego Rivera and mother and son Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo had their works exhibited at her gallery. 

Modigliani’s one man show was set for December 3rd 1917 and being exhibited at it were thirty drawings and paintings including a number of his female nude paintings, one of which was in the window of the gallery and attracted a lot of public attention.   Unfortunately for Weill and Modigliani, across from the gallery was a police station and the police, to their horror, soon noticed the crowds gathering to look through the window of the gallery at the nude figures.  The police commissioner ordered Weill to close the exhibition describing the paintings as being “filth”.  So why this strange decision and this prudish statement?  Female nudes had been painted for many years and life classes were part of the artistic syllabus at the formal Academies?   However that was the nub of the matter as the Academies taught that the female nude should be depicted only in certain poses and Modigliani’s nudes did not conform to that dictate but even more horrifying to the police commissioner was that Modigliani had depicted his female nudes as having pubic hair…shocking!!!!!   Modigliani had gone back to the pre-Academy days when strict rules regarding the posture of female nudes did not exist.   Goodness knows what the police commissioner would have made of the works of Egon Schiele !!!!!  Despite Weill’s argument that it was art, the commissioner of police would not change his mind and the exhibition closed before it began !

My final look at the life of Modigliani in my next blog will take in his final years and look at some of the women with whom he developed a close relationship.

                                                                                ……to be continued.

Amedeo Modigliani. Part 2 – Sculpture and a disappointed commission

I ended my last blog about Amedeo Modigliani with him having arrived in Paris in January 1906, thanks to financial help from his mother.  For that first year in Paris, Modigliani, who still had some of his mother’s money left over, was seen as a well dressed, gentle man who got on with his art in a quiet way, one who socialised little, drank wine in moderation and even looked askance at the excesses of some of the artists, such as Picasso, who frequented the lodgings, bars and studios of Montmartre, but all this would change twelve months later. 

L'Amazone by Modigliani (1909)
L’Amazone by Modigliani (1909)

At the end of the following year, 1907, he met and became great friends with Doctor Paul Alexandre who loved his artistic work.  The doctor bought more than twenty-five of his paintings and numerous sketches.  One painting the doctor ended up with was L’Amazone, which was finally completed by Modigliani in 1909.  It was not one the doctor had intended to buy but was one which, on his recommendation, was commissioned by Baroness Marguerite de Hasse de Villers.  The baroness was a beautiful socialite and also the lover of the doctor’s younger brother, Jean.  She posed for this painting by Modigliani dressed in a riding habit.  There is a sophisticated beauty about the bone structure of her face and her exaggerated and elongated jaw line.  She glances out at us in an imperious manner, with her black-gloved hand on her hip.  The commission was a nightmare for Modigliani.  His sitter was a nightmare and was ever demanding for the commission to be completed and at one point, when she had completely lost patience with him, threatened to cancel the commission if the work was not completed within the next seven days.  Modigliani had worked slowly on the work and had made a number of preliminary sketches for it.  On being presented with the portrait the Baroness was horrified by the way she had been depicted and refused to take ownership of it.  In the end Doctor Alexandre bought it. 

Étude pour L'Amazone by Modigliani
Étude pour L’Amazone by Modigliani

Although the sitter was not impressed with the finished work others have loved it and it was only this May that the painting, and three of the preliminary studies for the work, came up at auction at Sotheby’s, New York.  The painting was sold for $23 million and the three studies fetched a total of just over $1.3 million !  Paul Alexandre actively sought out commissions for Modigliani and the friendship between the two lasted until 1914 when the doctor was called-up by the military to take part in the World War I.  Doctor Alexandre had been instrumental in who persuading Modigliani to exhibit some of his works at the Salon des Independants, which had been formed in 1884 as an alternative to the Paris Salon. 

It was also through Paul Alexandre that Modigliani met the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi in the early part of 1909, shortly after moving to his new studio at 14 Cité Falquière in Montparnasse, and it was Brancusi who persuaded Modigliani to work, like himself, on stone sculptures.  During their time together Brancusi introduced Modigliani to the world of African sculpture and art.   Although we associate Modigliani with painting and drawing, his true love is thought to have been sculpture.  Between 1910 and 1914, Amedeo Modigliani almost abandoned painting and concentrated his time on sculpture and the related drawings which were used as preliminary sketches to the finished sculpted figures.

Caryatid by Modigliani (1914) MOMA New York
Caryatid by Modigliani (1914) MOMA New York

One such preliminary sketch, which is now at The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, was entitled CaryatidA caryatid is a column, used to support an entablature, and is in the form of a draped female figure.  The sketched figure of the woman in Modigliani’s work is balanced on a pedestal, her arms reach behind her head which is tucked into her shoulder.   Modigliani was fascinated by the theme of the caryatid.  One day he said that he hoped to be able to sculpt a series of them in stone and they would then be positioned around a temple which would be dedicated to the glory of mankind. 

Caryatid sculpture by Modigliani  (The Museum of Modern Arts, New York)
Caryatid sculpture by Modigliani
(The Museum of Modern Arts, New York)

However Modigliani only ever completed one such sculpture which is now housed in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Tête by Modigliani (1909)
Tête by Modigliani (1909)

Probably the best known of Modigliani’s sculptures was the limestone sculpture entitled Tête which, along with six others, Modigliani exhibited at the 1912 Salon d’Automne.   It is just 65cms tall and is a depiction of the elongated head of a woman who is wearing a tribal mask with her flowing hair swept back.  The characteristics of Modigliani’s sculptured heads with their long oval faces, elongated necks and noses, almond-shaped eyes, became typical of his portraiture works.  The head of Tête is very vertical in form but the hair extends back in a strongly horizontal manner.  It is said that for a true appreciation of the work it should be viewed all around.  On one side, it looks like the flowing locks of hair seem to be blowing in the wind.   The neck of the figure is slender.   When it came up at Christie’s Paris auction in June 2010, it was described as possessing:

“…the paradoxical combination of structural clarity and emotional inscrutability that is character of the artist’s finest work. Pared-down to a series of simple geometric forms, rigidly frontal and rigorously symmetrical, Tête emanates a feeling of haunting mystery. Behind the stylized semi-circles for eyes, one senses the presence of a fragile, numinous core…” 

Tête by Modigliani (1909)
Tête by Modigliani (1909)

Modigliani’s Tête was almost certainly influenced by his friend and mentor, the sculptor Constantin Brancusi but maybe more so by examples of tribal art which he had seen in the Paris gallery of the Hungarian-born art dealer, Joseph Brummer.  Being a friend of Picasso, Modigliani would also have seen African and Oceanic art work which the Spanish painter had accumulated.  Tête had been purchased by Gaston Lévy, an avid art collector and who would later become co-founder of the French supermarket chain, Monoprix, at a sale at the Hotel Drouot in June 1927 and it remained in the family for eighty-three years.  The sculpture is often referred to as The Lévy Head.   Lévy died in 1977 but it was not until 2010 that the sculpture came up for sale at Christies in Paris.  When the bidding for the sculpture ended the estimated price of between $3 and $4 million seemed derisory as the hammer went down at a price of $52,620,923.  This was a world record for a work by Modigliani and in fact it was the highest price ever paid for a work sold in France.  In my final blog about Modigliani I will look at his love affairs, his death at such a young age and the tragic consequence of his passing.

                                                    ……………………………………. to be continued.

Amedeo Modigliani. Part 1 – The birth of an artist

Amedeo Modigliani (1884 - 1920)
Amedeo Modigliani (1884 – 1920)

The artist I am featuring today has a connection with my last few blogs as, whilst he was living in Paris, he befriended Suzanne Valadon’s son, Maurice Utrillo, and became one of his drinking companions.  Today and in my next blog I want to look at the life of the Italian figurative painter and sculptor, Amedeo Modigliani.

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was born into a Jewish family in the Italian sea port of Livorno, on the Ligurian Sea on the western coast of Tuscany.  Livorno at the time had a thriving Jewish community, as like many others, Modigliani’s Jewish forefathers had settled in the Italian city to escape religious persecution.  In the early 17th century Ferdinando I de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, had enacted an edict of tolerance for Jews and their right to practice their religion and the Tuscan seaport became a safe haven for the Spanish Jews who had suffered persecution at the hands of the Catholic Spanish rulers.  In return the Jewish community played a major part in creating the mercantile wealth of the city. 

Eugene Garsin and Flaminio Modigliani parents of Amedeo Modigliani in a picture taken c.1884 a few months before the birth of Amedeo
Eugene Garsin and Flaminio Modigliani parents of Amedeo Modigliani in a picture taken c.1884 a few months before the birth of Amedeo

Amedeo Modigliani’s mother was Eugénie Garsin whose family came from Marseille.  Her parents were elite and wealthy Sephardic Jews whose ancestors had established themselves along the Mediterranean coast.  The Garsins belonged to the great tradition of Jewish scholars.  Her parents had been involved in finance and real estate.  Eugénie was well educated and a highly intelligent and resourceful woman.   Amedeo’s father was Flaminio Modigliani, whose family came from Rome and the Roman Campagna region and who had descended from a family of business people, bankers and entrepreneurs.  Flaminio Modigliani moved from Rome to Livorno in 1849.  

Villa Modigliani, Grugura, Sardinia
Villa Modigliani, Grugura, Sardinia

Flaminio’s father, Emanuele and his grandfather, Abramvita had purchased an estate on the outskirts of Cagliari, Sardinia and owned swathes of Sardinian land, about thirty thousand acres in all, around Grugua were they built a beautiful and opulent residence.  Their wealth came from the fertile farmland, timber from their forests and, around the end of 1863, zinc ore and coal deposits were discovered on their land close to the small town of Iglesia. 

Flaminio Modigliani was a talented mining engineer and forestry manager, who, along with his brothers, Abramo and Alberto, had become wealthy with their involvement in their mineral mining venture and forestry work on their estate in Sardinia.    Flaminio and Eugénie Garsin married in Livorno in 1872.  Amedeo was their fourth child, having two elder brothers, Giuseppe Emmanuel (Mene), who became a senior union leader and Socialist Deputy, Umberto, who would become a mining engineer, and an elder sister, Margherita, who became a primary school teacher.  The family lived in a two storey mansion at No.38 Via Roma in Livorno.  They had an opulent lifestyle with a household full of servants. 

Amedeo, who was affectionately known as “Dedo”, was born on July 12th 1884 at their Via Roma home in Livorno.  It was a very traumatic time for the Modigliani family for their fortunes had suddenly changed for the worse.  There had been an economic decline in Europe and with it came a sudden drop in the price of metals which resulted in Flaminio Modigliani’s business empire crashing and he was made bankrupt.  The only thing which prevented the family losing all their wealth was an ancient Italian statute which stated that creditors could not seize the bed of a pregnant woman or as in the case of Eugénie, a mother about to give birth and so, the story goes, that on the day of Amedeo’s birth, the family quickly collected all the household and family valuables and put them on the bed in which Eugénie lay, giving birth to her son.   When the bailiffs arrived to take away all the family possessions they found that the most valuable of them had been piled high on top of Eugénie as she lay in bed and therefore they could not be confiscated!   Modigliani is quoted as saying later in life that he was born under the auspices of the ruin. 

Amedeo with his nurse
Amedeo with his nurse

In 1886, the family move to a smaller less luxurious home.  Amedeo’s father was away from home for long periods of time searching for business opportunities and so Amedeo lived with and was brought up by his mother Eugénie, her two sisters Eve Laure and Gabrielle, his maternal grandmother and his maternal grandfather, Isaac Garsin.  In her diary Eugénie wrote about her two year old son Amedeo, describing him as being: 

“…a little spoiled, a bit temperamental but as pretty as a heart…” 

With his father absent for long periods Amedeo formed a close bond with his grandfather, Isaac, an extremely learned man.  During his early childhood Isaac, who was now the only adult male in the household, would spend hours talking to his grandson about art, travel and Jewish history.   Amedeo’s mother, Eugénie, an ever practical and capable person, realised that the family needed an inflow of income and with the help of family friends set up a school in their house on via delle Ville, where she and her sister Laure taught local children. She also received paid work translating the poetry of the Italian poet, Gabriele D’Annunzio and was a book reviewer.

Amedeo was schooled at home up to the age of ten by his mother but throughout his early childhood he had many health problems.  In 1895, aged just eleven, he was struck down with pleurisy.   His mother recalled the time in her diary:

“… Dedo had a very severe pleurisy and I did yet recovered from the terrible fear that made ​​me . The character of the child is not yet formed enough that I can say my opinion here . His manners are those of a spoiled child who does not lack intelligence. We will see later what’s in this chrysalis. Perhaps an artist ?… “.

At the age of ten Amedeo was devastated by the death of his grandfather, Isaac, who had spent so much time with him.  It was also the year in which his elder brothers had left home to study at the University of Pisa.    Amadeo’ health deteriorated further in his teenage years and he contracted typhoid fever when he was thirteen years old but most serious of all when he was sixteen years of age he developed tuberculosis, which twenty years later would kill him.  In August 1898, when he was fourteen years old and still attending his local school, Amedeo had his first artistic tuition when, as the youngest pupil, he attended drawing lessons at the workshop of the Livorno-born artist, Guglielmo Micheli, who had, on the ground floor of Villa Baiocchi, set up and directed a school of design, which many local students attended.  The following year he finished attending the local school for health reasons and all his efforts were now concentrated on art and the tuition given to him by Micheli.  At the school he studied all genres of art – landscape painting, portraiture, still life but his favourite was the painting of the nude and he attended a life-drawing class in Gino Romiti’s Livorno studio.  It was at Micheli’s art school that he was befriended by a fellow student and aspiring artist Oscar Ghilia who would become one of Modigliani’s closest friends.  Unfortunately his artistic studies were cut short in September 1900 when he developed pleurisy and tuberculosis.   In December, his mother decided to take him away from the cold damp climate of Livorno and move to the warmer climate of southern Italy and the two of them travelled to Naples, Capri, and Amalfi and spent the winter of 1901 in Rome.  It was here that he also first developed a love for sculpture.  During his travels he visited the major museums making copies of the paintings by the Italian Masters.   Modigliani fell in love with Rome and in one of his many letters to his friend Oscar Ghiglia he wrote:

“…As I speak to you, Rome is not outside but inside me, like a terriblejewel set upon its seven hills as upon seven imperious ideas.  Rome is the orchestration which girds me, the circumscribed arena in which I isolate myself and concentrate my thoughts.  Her feverish sweetness, her tragic countryside , her own beauty and harmony, all these are mine, for my thought and my work…”

On May 7th 1902, having arrived in Florence, Amedeo enrolled at the Scuola Libera del Nudo of the city’s Accademia di Belle Arti which would be the beginning of life drawing and his love of painting nudes.  His friend Oscar Ghilia was already studying in Florence and he and Amedeo shared the same lodgings. 

The Jewess by Modigliani (1908)
The Jewess by Modigliani (1908)
The Jewess was the first painting Modigliani sold after settling in Paris in 1906. It was purchased by his friend and patron, Paul Alexandre, who was so taken with the work that he had Modigliani paint it into the background of three additional commissioned portraits. Although wearing a composed expression, the stark whiteness of the sitter’s face contrasts harshly with her dark apparel, giving the composition and inner tension and suggesting strong emotions lying beneath the surface. The painting’s melancholic overtones have invited comparison with the work of Picasso’s Blue Period. The painting is also one of the few Jewish-themed works by Modigliani, who was of Sephardic Jewish descent and publically embraced his Jewish identity. – See more at:

The Jewess was the first painting Modigliani sold after he moved to in Paris in 1906. It was bought by his friend and patron, Paul Alexandre, who was so taken with the work that he had Modigliani paint it into the background of three additional commissioned portraits. Contrasting her calm and self-possessed expression, is the stark whiteness of the her face against her dark clothes which in some ways gives the picture a strong emotional feel. The painting’s melancholic overtones have often been compared to Picasso’s works during his Blue Period.   Although Modigliani was Jewish by birth, this was on of the few Jewish-themed works by him.

In 1903 after another bout of illness Amedeo moved to Venice where that May, he enrolled at the Instituto di Belle Arti di Venezia and lived in lodgings in Campielle Centopiere. All this travelling and studying costs money but fortunately for Amedeo he was being financed by his maternal uncle, Amadeus Garsin.  It is whilst in Venice that Amedeo develops a taste for the seedier side of life.  Bouts of heavy drinking, taking of the drug hashish and his association with prostitutes were to him all part of an exciting and stimulating bohemian lifestyle.  He now began to make plans to move to Paris, which was the centre of avant-garde art and where he believed his favoured bohemian lifestyle would fit in well with the artists of Montmartre.  However his high-spending lifestyle and plans to move the French capital came to an abrupt end in 1905 when his uncle, Amadeus, died and the source of his income dried up.  His mother comes to his rescue in December, whether because she was worried about his health or whether it was because she wanted to separate her son from the excesses of Venice, one will never know, but she gave him the money to make the journey to Paris and in January 1906 Amedeo Modigliani descended upon Montmartre. 

After a number of short stays in various hotels, Modigliani went to live in Le Bateau-Lavoir, in Montmartre, a dark and dingy building which was home to many impoverished artists.  Unlike some of the bedraggled and tramp-like characters who lived there, Modigliani, still having some of the money left that his mother had given him, strutted the streets in a quite well-dressed manner and hired himself a studio for himself in Rue Caulaincourt.  It was during those early days that he met artists such as Picasso, Andre Derrain and Diego Rivera and it was then that he concentrated his art work on small-scale portraiture and at the end of 1906 he had three of his works exhibited at the Paris Art gallery of Laura Wylde’s Paris art gallery on the corner of the Boulevard Saint-Germain.   He enrolled in the life drawing classes at the Académie Colarossi.  An artist by day and despite his poor health a reveler by night, during which time he and his fellow artists would drink copious amounts of alcohol in the form of cheap wine or absinthe, take drugs and spend their nights in various women’s beds.   His was a debauched lifestyle which could have done little for his health. He was soon accepted by all the Montmartre artists, who nicknamed him “Modi”.    Ludwig Meidner, the German artist, summed up Modigliani when he said of him:

“…Our Modi was a character and, at the same time, highly talented representative of Bohemian Montmartre; he was probably even its last true Bohemian…”.

Portrait of Doctor Paul Alexandre by Modigliani (1909)
Portrait of Doctor Paul Alexandre by Modigliani (1909)

It was around about this time that Amedeo Modigliani first met Suzanne’s son, Maurice Utrillo and her husband André Utter.  However more importantly he became acquainted with a young doctor, about his own age, Paul Alexandre, who loved Modigliani’s work and bought some of his paintings and sketches and soon became his first patron arranging portraiture commissions for him. 

Doctor Paul Alexandre
Doctor Paul Alexandre

Paul and his brother Jean were so pleased to be part of the Montmartre art scene that they set up a free house in Rue Delta for the artists to work in and stay.   The house was then known as “Delta”.  In a book entitled The Unknown Modigliani by Paul Alexandre’s son Noel, he recounts the tale of how his father and Amedeo first met:

“…It was not entirely by chance that I met Modigliani. From the time I first had a little independence after leaving college I began to associate with artists. It was Doucet who first brought him to the Delta. I think it was in November or December 1907. Doucet had met him in the rue Saint Vincent at Frédéric’s ‘Lapin Agile’ which in those days was only frequented by poor people, poets and artists. Modigliani told Doucet that he had been thrown out of the small studio he had occupied in Place Jean-Baptiste Clement and that he did not know where to go. This was shortly after his arrival in Paris. He was earning nothing, he had exhausted the few resources he had brought from Italy and found himself penniless. Doucet offered to bring him to the Delta where he could stay, if he wanted, and where he could keep his belongings. This was how my friendship with Modigliani began. I was twenty-six years old, Modigliani was twenty three…”

                                                             ……………………….to be continued



Suzanne Valadon. Part 7 – The final years

Portrait of His Mother Suzanne Valadon by Maurice Utrillo
Portrait of His Mother Suzanne Valadon by Maurice Utrillo

With their newly found wealth the acrimonious arguments ceased, long-standing bills were paid and new clothes were bought for Suzanne, her husband and her son.  There was also a change in the fortunes of the trio for before they were all artists and all exhibited their works but now the Bernheim Jeune gallery just wanted paintings done by Suzanne and Maurice.  Utter was now reduced to the role as their manager.  He was the one who negotiated deals and organised exhibitions at home and in Europe.   The new wealth brought happiness to their friends and neighbours as Suzanne was a generous soul.  It was said that tiny street urchins would along the narrow streets of Montmartre clutching onto 100 franc notes which Suzanne had thrown to them from her top floor window in rue Cortot.  Suzanne did not forget her mother in this exciting time and arranged to have a splendid granite tomb placed above her grave.  She must have been thinking of the future for she the tomb inscribed in gold letters:

Valadon – Utter – Utrillo

Suzanne also remembered those idyllic months she spent with André in Belleville when he was recuperating and so she decided that she and André should return there for a visit.   Sadly, as we all know, it is foolish to try and re-live old memories and their return was not as idyllic as she had imagined it would be as the couple lapsed into numerous arguments.  

Chateau de St Bernard
Chateau de St Bernard

The one thing which did lift their spirits was an impulse buy on the day they were to return to Paris.  They bought themselves a chateau which lay close to the River Saône, just 25 kilometres north of Lyon.  They bought Le Chateau de St Bernard from the owner Antoine Goujot.  The purchase lifted their spirits and they immediately sent out invites to all their friends back in Paris along with money to pay for their travel.  Money was no object when it came to supplying food and drink to the chateau parties. 

Finally André and Suzanne had to return to Paris and once again relations between the couple began to deteriorate.  Their marriage was under extreme pressure and during their vociferous arguments André Utter struggled to remember the good days they had shared together when Suzanne was the one true love of his life.  In those days he was mesmerized by both her outer and inner beauty and could not understand what had changed.  The problem with Suzanne, although he could not see it, probably emanated from her mental and physical failure to grow old gracefully coupled with the effect her son’s mental issue were having on her.   Maurice’s behaviour was also affecting Utter but he was less sympathetic as he himself had been an alcoholic and had weaned himself off drink and therefore he could not accept Maurice’s behaviour.  Sadly Utter was overlooking Maurice’s mental issues which had little to do with drink.  For Suzanne and André there were still times of unfettered sexual activity but these bouts became less frequent.  The new wealth of the couple could not compensate for their troubles and could not fix them. 

Suzanne, Maurice and André in their studio
Suzanne, Maurice and André in their studio

André Utter began to have love affairs and Suzanne was aware of his infidelity and strove to stop them but probably knew the situation was beyond redemption.  She believed the reason for her husband’s infidelity was her fading looks whereas in reality it was probably due to her fragile mental state that had killed their relationship.   Utter’s amorous trysts did not make him happy for very long as the women, aware of his wealth, were ever demanding.  Soon he could not differentiate between their love for him and their love for his money.  When one of his affairs ended disastrously, as they all did, he would return to Suzanne and beg her forgiveness.  The locals were well aware of the situation between Suzanne and André and Suzanne being aware of this, ensured that everybody should be aware of her selfless magnanimity in forgiving her errant husband.  As his sensual liaisons were not giving him the pleasure any more he turned back to drink as being drunk allowed him to escape reality and distance himself from his many lovers and the acerbic tongue of his wife.  He would constantly bemoan his lot in life.  Nobody loved him or his paintings any more.  During his drunken outbursts he would become vile and malicious and Suzanne suddenly saw a different André.  This was not the man she fell so deeply in love with back in 1908. 

Still Life by  Suzanne Valadon (1918)
Still Life by Suzanne Valadon (1918)

Suzanne tried to console herself by throwing herself back into her art which was still commanding a high price and the fact that her son’s works realised four or five times more that hers did not bother her; in fact she was proud of Maurice’s achievements.  The subjects in her paintings changed.  Gone were the nude studies to be replaced by still life depictions often featuring flowers which were painted in somewhat crude colours which she always liked using.  She still went back alone to her chateau and host luncheons and dinner parties.  Her extravagant lifestyle carried on.  She would feed her dogs with only the best faux-filets and her cats feasted on caviar.  People looked her as being a foolish old woman but she continued undaunted. 

Bouquet de fleurs devant une fenêtre à Saint-Bernard by Suzanne Valadon (1926)
Bouquet de fleurs devant une fenêtre à Saint-Bernard by Suzanne Valadon (1926)

In 1924 Maurice voluntarily placed himself in a Paris sanatorium which was close by at Ivry.   Maurice was still unable to accept that he had mental issues and put down his problems solely to his alcohol addiction.  Suzanne was heartbroken that at the time of her son’s greatest artistic triumphs he was hell-bent on destroying himself.  It could be that for the first time in her life she realised that the symptoms Maurice displayed as a very young child was the onset of his mental issues and could not forgive herself for not doing more then to try and cure what was ailing her son.  Once Maurice left the sanatorium Suzanne took him off to the chateau and employed a male nurse to look after him.  She tended to all his needs.  She fed him.  She dressed him and would go for long walks with him and at night she would sit in a chair next to his be until he fell asleep.  André made a number of visits to the chateau but the romance and the love he had for the place had gone and the tantrums and behaviour of Maurice now simply annoyed him.  Later he reflected on this saying: 

“…This Eden was transformed into a real hell.  I thought we had bought the place for peace.  But Maurice was able to scream and shout about to his heart’s content.  Suzanne replied in kind.  And only the walls and the fish in the Saône listened to them…”

Officials at the Bernheim Jeuene gallery were beginning to worry about Suzanne’s profligacy and so as to protect the interests of their co-client, Maurice Utrillo, purchased a house for him in the Avenue Junot and put it in his name.   It was a modern building with a studio and a small garden which Suzanne enjoyed tending.  Gardening and flowers were the one and only thing Suzanne loved about life.  Utter remained in their house at No. 12 rue Cortot as it still had memories for him of the beautiful woman he had once loved and the pictures he had once painted.  Years later, after Suzanne had died, Utter wrote to a friend:

“…Always I dream of the rue Cortot and the beloved Suzanne.  When we first moved there, how beautiful everything was – except for the gossips!   And I knew then that it was the place I should always keep in my heart.  Every man has a home.  He is lost if he does not treasure it…”

Suzanne Valadon at work in her studio (1926)
Suzanne Valadon at work in her studio (1926)

Suzanne’s art was still appreciated and in 1929 she was invited to show in the Exhibition of Contemporary Art – Women and Flowers and in the same year she exhibited work in the Painters, Self-Portraits exhibition.  It was at this exhibition that she showed her extraordinary nude self-portrait which featured her as an aging woman gazing into a mirror.   In 1932 Suzanne, Maurice and André had a joint exhibition of their work at Gallerie Moos in Geneva and they were all delighted with sales figures.  That year Suzanne had a one woman exhibition of her paintings, drawings and etchings at the Galleries Georges Petit in Paris.  It was an outstanding success.  One of the visitors to the exhibition was Suzanne’s friend from her chateau days, the then Mayor of Lyons Édouard Marie Herriot who also served three times as Prime Minister and for many years as President of the Chamber of Deputies.  Of the exhibition he wrote:

“…Alive as Springtime itself and, like Spring, clear and ordered without interpretation, Suzanne Valadon pursues her magnificent and silent work of painting……. I think of the words of Théopile Gautier  ‘Summer is a colourist, winter a draftsman’.  To us who admire and love her art, Suzanne Valadon is springtime – a creature in whose sharp, incisive forms we find fountains of life, the spontaneity of renewed day-to-day living.   And those matters of the nineteenth century whose names we revere, I marvel that so scrupulous a respect for truth of form is able to achieve such a fete of colour and movement…”

Suzanne Valadon Self Portrait (1931)
Suzanne Valadon Self Portrait (1931)

Suzanne also had another troubling matter to deal with.  What was to become of Maurice when she died?  Her answer to that was that he should marry.  Suzanne did not want to lose “control” of her son but believed a kind and dedicated woman would be the ideal wife for her troubled son.  One candidate Suzanne had in mind was André Utter’s sister Gabrielle.  Gabrielle, now in her thirties, had like André come from a humble background.  She was a very caring person, deeply religious and not at all unattractive.  In some ways she pitied Maurice which was a kind of love but in a maternal or sisterly sense.  She and Maurice would talk together for hours and did all things close friends would do but this was not a physical relationship.  After four years of this “courtship”, Suzanne, tired of waiting, forced the issue of marriage with Maurice but he was horrified with the suggestion and replied vitriolic ally:

“…I’ve had enough tragedy in my family with one of that family…”

An official delegation of the government descended on Chateau de Bernard to formally present Maurice with the Cross of the Legion de Honor  in 1927 for his services to Art, for by this time he was an internationally acclaimed artist.  I have to admit that whilst researching this blog I read that the award was in 1928 and other sources said 1929!

Portrait of her son Maurice Utrillo by Suzanne Valadon
Portrait of her son Maurice Utrillo by Suzanne Valadon

In January 1935, now in her sixty-ninth year, Suzanne was taken seriously ill  and rushed to the American Hospital at Neuilly where she was diagnosed with uremic poisoning.   One of her visitors was Lucie Valore, who had reverted to her maiden name and who many years ago was Lucie Pauwels, who visited Suzanne with her banker husband to buy some of her paintings.  Her husband had died two years earlier.  What happened and what was said at Suzanne’s bedside depends on the version of the story you wish to believe.   According to Suzanne, Lucie had simply come to visit her and during the visit had said that as Suzanne was unable to look after Maurice she would take on the role as carer.  However Lucie remembered the visit differently as she simply remembered Suzanne’s anguished questions as to who would look after her son and on hearing those tormented pleas had volunteered to take up the burden that Suzanne had borne for such a long time.  Who knows what the true version of events was, but for sure it was easy to realise that it was the start of a contest for who should bear the responsibility for looking after Maurice Utrillo.  When Suzanne had planned a wife for Maurice she always believed she could still control him and his life.  She wanted a compliant wife for Maurice one whom she could manipulate.   However she realised right from the start that Lucie Valore was not a person she could control or manipulate and so she desperately tried to end the relationship.  It did not work for Maurice made the decision to rid himself of the Montmartre life and replace it with a life with the banker’s widow.  Maurice Utrillo and Lucie Valore were married in a civil ceremony at the Montmartre mairie and later in a religious ceremony at Angoulème.  Although Suzanne was present at the civil ceremony she refused to attend the religious one.

Suzanne Valadon by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen
Suzanne Valadon by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen

The newlyweds remained in Angoulème for twelve months and Lucie took on both the role as Carer for Maurice but also as his business manager which had once been looked after by André Utter.  Lucie in a way controlled Maurice by carefully rationing his alcohol consumption so that it would not affect his artistic output.  Lucie was an astute business manager as she controlled the output of his work to the art dealers so as to artificially raise the value of his paintings.  His paintings grew in value and with this increased income the couple bought a large house with extensive grounds  in the fashionable town of Le Vésinet, to the north west of Paris.  Despite Lucie’s attempts to win over the support of Suzanne, her attempts failed and slowly Suzanne’s contact with her son lessened.  Although she was aware that Lucie had controlled Maurice’s outbursts it could be that she resented the fact that Lucie had succeeded where she had failed.  Suzanne had lost her mother, her husband and now her son what was left in her life?   The answer came in the form of another young aspiring artist, Gazi.  He was a young man with a swarthy collection and rumour had it that he was the son of a mogul emperor.  Locals referred to him as Gazi the Tartar but for Suzanne he was simply a young artist from Provence whom she befriended.  He eventually lived with her and looked after her like a devoted son with his mother.  He would sit with her in the evenings and listen to her tales of the past, about Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Renoir and the little Master, Degas.

In May 1937 Suzanne was invited to attend the Women Painters Exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris.  She had several of her latest paintings on show as well as some of her earlier work.  It was a celebration of French female artists and along with her works were paintings by  Vigée le Brun, Berthe Morisot, Eva Gonzalèz and Sonia Turk.  She spent hours critically viewing all the works of art and that evening she spoke to a friend who had accompanied her to the exhibition:

“…You know, chérie, I often boasted about my art because I thought that was what people expected – for an artist to boast.  I’m very humble after what we have seen this afternoon.  The women of France can paint too.  But do you know, chérie, I think God made me France’s greatest woman painter…”

The grave of Suzanne Valadon at the Cimetière parisien, St. Ouen.
The grave of Suzanne Valadon at the Cimetière parisien, St. Ouen.

In April, 1938, Suzanne Valadon was sat before her easel painting a floral still life when she was struck down by a stroke.  Neighbours heard her cry out and rushed inside to help her and found her lying motionless on the studio floor.  She was rushed to hospital but the next day, the 7th April1938, she passed away, aged 73.  Her daughter in law, Lucie, took care of the funeral arrangements as her husband, Suzanne’s son, Maurice, was in a state of collapse at home in Le Vésinet.  A funeral service was held at the Church of Saint Peter of Montmartre on April 9th.  The church was crowded to see the old lady, the great painter, begin her last journey.  Her husband André Utter was there and inconsolable.  His once greatest love had finally achieved peace.  She was buried in Cimetière  parisien de St Ouen.

Suzanne Valadon (Marie-Clémentine Valadon) 23 Sept 1865 - 7 Apr 1938
Suzanne Valadon
(Marie-Clémentine Valadon)
23 Sept 1865 – 7 Apr 1938

André Utter became the owner of the castle to the death of Suzanne Valadon in 1938. He sold it in 1945 and died in Paris a few years later in 1948.   Suzanne’s son Maurice Utrillo died on 5 November 1955, and was buried in the Cimitière Saint-Vincent in Montmartre and not in the family grave as Suzanne had planned.  In 1963, eight years after the death of her husband, Utrillo’s wife Lucie, founded the Association Maurice Utrillo, which housed a collection of documents and photographs recording the history of the lives of her and her husband as well as Suzanne Valadon and André Utter.   Lucy Utrillo died in 1965.  

When I started writing about the life and works of Suzanne Valadon I had no idea that it would stretch over seven separate blogs.  The more I wrote the more fascinated I became and the more I read about her life.  In the end I could not bear to leave out little bits of information I had just gleaned.   At one point I had decided not to go into too much detail about her son, Maurice Utrillo, but I soon realised that as he played such a key role in Suzanne’s life, it was important that I examined his relationship with his mother and grandmother and later his relationship with Suzanne’s lover Paul Mousis and her husband André Utter. 

What did you make of Suzanne’s life?   Were you less sympathetic with her lot in life believing she brought all her problems upon herself?   How did you feel about her relationship with her son Maurice?  Did you blame her for paying too little attention to him when he was a young child and by doing so, allowed his mental issues to worsen irrevocably or do you think that once she had been told by the doctors that Maurice “would grow out of it”, it was all she had to go on?  So can you empathise with her?  

For me, I felt sadness for her when she realised she was losing her greatest asset, an asset that in so many ways shaped her life.  The asset was her beauty but as we all know, one cannot hold on to it forever.


Most of my information came from a book I read on the life of Suzanne Valadon entitled The Valadon Drama, The Life of Suzanne Valadon, written by John Storm in 1923.

Other sites I visited to find some pictures were:

The Blog:  It’s about time :