The Joy of Museums

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“Nude on a Blue Cushion” by Amedeo Modigliani (National Gallery of Art, DC)

Amedeo Modigliani - Nude on a Blue Cushion (1917)

“Nude on a Blue Cushion” by Amedeo Modigliani

“Nude on a Blue Cushion” by Amedeo Modigliani is one of the dozens of nudes created by Modigliani in a modern style characterised by elongation of faces and figures, that echo precursors such as Titian, Goya, and Velázquez. However, Modigliani’s figures differ significantly in the level of raw sensuality they transmit. Unlike depictions of female nudes from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, in which female nudity is couched in mythology or allegory, this series of paintings are without any such context, highlighting the painting’s eroticism.

The several dozen nudes that Modigliani painted between 1916 and 1919 constitute many of his best-known works. This series of nudes was commissioned by Modigliani’s dealer and friend, who lent Modigliani the use of his apartment, supplied models, painting materials and paid him for his work. The paintings from this arrangement were therefore different from his previous depictions of friends and lovers in that they were funded by Zborowski, his art dealer, either for his own collection or with an eye to their commercial potential.

The nude, which depicts an anonymous model, is one of a series of nude artworks that caused a scandal when they were first exhibited at the Modigliani’s only solo show in Paris in 1917. A crowd formed outside the gallery window, where one of the nudes was openly on display and police demanded the immediate closure of the exhibition. Ultimately, Modigliani’s nudes reaffirm and reinvigorate the nude as a subject of modernist art.

Amedeo Modigliani was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France and is known for portraits and nudes.  Modigliani moved to Paris in 1906, where he came into contact with prominent artists such as Pablo Picasso. From 1909 to 1914, he devoted himself mainly to sculpture in which the linear form of African sculpture and the figurative Renaissance painters informed his work.  His main subject was portraits and full figures of humans, both in the images and in sculptures. Later he painted the human figure almost exclusively and created many reclining female nudes. During his life, Amedeo Modigliani had little success and died aged 35 in Paris.

Exploring Modigliani

Reflections

  • Modigliani is famous for his portraits and nudes. Why did he not painted his most frequent portrait subject, Jeanne in the nude?
  • What influence did African sculpture have on Modigliani’s portraits, with their elongated face and highly simplified features?

Nude on a Divan

  • Title:                Nude on a Divan
  • Artist:              Amedeo Modigliani
  • Created:          1918
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:  60.2 × 91.7 cm (23.7 × 36.1 in)
  • Museum:        National Gallery of Art

Amedeo Modigliani

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“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Leonardo da Vinci

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Photo Credit 1) Amedeo Modigliani [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons