From poverty to sex, drugs and priceless art
Modigliani’s controversial art fetches record price at Christie’s Paris
THE NEWS that a limestone sculpture by Amedeo Modigliani has been sold for a record price – £35.8 million (R405.8m) – at the Paris branch of Christie’s auction house is test a me n t t o t h e e x p o n e n t i a l growth in the Italian artist’s market value – and in the art world’s love for picturesque self-destruction.
Ninety years after his death, critics still argue about the aesthetic value of his works – espe- cially his oddly interchangeable portraits of women, with their long, Ruud-van-Nistelrooy-meets-SamanthaCameron faces, their inexpressive eyes and long shapely necks. But of his economic worth, there’s little doubt.
Over the past 20 years, his stock has risen to dizzying heights, with his work now regarded alongside that of Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Klimt.
Several Modigliani portraits have recently hit the auction rooms, generating excitement. The earliest recorded auctionsale price for one of his paintings is 1986, when Jeanne Hebuterne (au Foulard) was sold at Christie’s for £1.95m.
When last offered for auction, in 2004, its estimate was between £5.3m and £6.7m.
In May 1997, The Son of the Concierge was sold at Christie’s New York for $5.8m. In Sotheby’s in 2006, it went under the hammer for $31m.
A c c o rd i n g t o A r t p r i c e, which assesses the fluctuations of investment values in art, between 2004 and 2005 alone, Modigliani’s value increased by between 45 and 64 percent.
His sculptures, a small corner of his output, have become a goldmine. Tête de Femme, carved in 1911-12, was sold in 1995 for $1 047 500. Six years later, in 2001, it went for $3.8m at the Phillips auction house. That was then the highest price paid for a Modigliani carving.
Nine years later, the value of his stone heads has increased by a factor of 10.
Why? What do buyers find so attractive about him? The short answers are: debauchery, di s s ol ut i on, dr ugs and s e l f - destruction. In his brief life (he died at 36, of tubercular meningitis, aggravated by a diet of d r u g s, ab s i n t h e a n d ch e ap brandy), he played to perfection the role of the artist as manic visionary, deranged addict and skirt-chasing degenerate.
After studying art in his birthplace, Livorno, Italy, he went to Venice, where he discovered hashish and began to frequent seedy hangouts and reeking brothels.
Modigliani moved to Paris in 1906 and settled in Montmartre, in a commune for penniless artists.
Nicknamed “Modi” (which helpfully sounds like “maudit”, French for “doomed”) he was a Pete Doherty-like star of early 20th-century Paris, when to be young was heaven, but to be a struggling artist was often to inhabit the outskirts of hell.
He plunged into a bottomless pit of drink and drugs, allowed his living quarters to go to ruin, and took to behaving outrageously in public.
Modigliani sketched like a driven man, sometimes knocking off 100 pieces in a day, and painted scores of portraits. – The Independent