(Send) Nudes: Modigliani Style


A surprise Christmas present had me speeding up to the Tate Modern just before New Year. There, once I’d battled through the hordes visiting the current ‘playground’ of swings, on the 3rd floor was a different kind of immersive experience.

One of the Tate’s current exhibitions, and the one I went to see, focuses on Modigliani. The Italian born artist moved to the buzzing Parisian art scene in 1906 at the age of 21 and the galleries track his artwork over this time until his death.

Despite some dalliances with different forms of media, the best parts of the exhibition were by far Modigliani’s works. His concern with how to represent people was evident as portrait after portrait lined the walls and his block colours and figuration of his sitters showed the influences he had from both Picasso and Cezanne. His distinctive style of long ‘swanish’ necks and blank, almond eyes can be seen throughout his career from his early works to his successful foray into sculpture, right up until his portraits of children in Nice. While some may not like this distinctive style, it was certainly interesting to see how it is repeated in works over his career.

His distinctive style of long ‘swanish’ necks and blank, almond eyes can be seen throughout his career

The highlight of the exhibition, however, is most certainly the room of Modigliani’s nudes. Where in his other portraits it can seem as if all the people blur into one through his repeated style, the vast canvases of curved bodies and softer faces is a welcome contrast. Some of the nudes stare brazenly at the viewer while others seem totally distracted and in another world. Compared to the previous portraits, each one seemed to be more real. (As real as any painting can be!) This clearly wasn’t just my view as I overheard a couple discussing how much they liked these paintings; “They have an aura of self-containment and confidence, as if they’re not bothered at all!” And it’s true. Modigliani centres the compositions around the woman, and by using block colours he foregrounds their dominance within the work. She is both naked and indifferent to it and, from those who engage with the viewer, they seem to be saying; ‘Oh, I’m naked? And what?’ It was all round rather liberating.

‘Oh, I’m naked? And what?’ It was all round rather liberating.

While the exhibition at times strayed from the actual work of Modigliani this was not without some success. The second gallery contained silent films of Montmartre to portray the lifestyle of ‘Modigliani’s Paris’. While interesting, this caused a holdup and did not convey the raucousness of Parisian life but rather created a disgruntled crowd of crammed in people. This digital element echoes in one of the final galleries where one could queue for twenty minutes to experience a virtual reality representation of the artist’s studio. Having never experienced virtual reality before (and for the sake of this review) I stepped into the queue but was actually pleasantly surprised by what confronted me when I put the goggles on. The studio was realistic, down to the smoking cigarette and the breeze from the open window and better explained Modigliani’s life towards the end of his career.

If anyone has some spare time before heading back to Durham or is planning a weekend away during term, I’d strongly recommended this exhibition. My only advice is that the galleries were quite packed with people which makes seeing the art quite difficult, so if you go early in the morning or just before it closes you’re likely to have most of the place to yourself!

A link to the exhibition can be found here. It runs until 2nd April 2018.

Photograph: Philippe Roos via Creative Commons and Flickr 

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