Where? Room 12 of the San Diego Museum of Art
What do you see? A young boy dressed in a red t-shirt and jacket. The middle and inside of his jacket are white and black, but the red color dominates. He has parted his blond hair neatly and stares with his blue eyes at the viewer. But he does not seem to be comfortable. His rosy cheeks and unsettling gaze give the impression that the boy is shy and overwhelmed by the situation in front of him. Modigliani amplified these characteristics of the boy, just like he elongated his nose, neck, and head, and only gave him a small mouth. He used elegant lines for the outline of the boy, but also included asymmetry in many aspects, which is visible in the shape of the boy’s shoulders, face, ears, and hair.
Backstory: The painting does not appear more than one hundred years old. The colorful outfit and timeless gaze make it look like this painting is much more recent. The painting is typical for Modigliani in that he simplified the subject in front of him and painted that with pleasant curves and lines on the canvas. The simple but pleasant style of Modigliani does not mean that the end result is always pleasant to look at. The blue-eyed boy, for example, does not look to be carefree and happy. Modigliani may have included some elements into this painting reflecting how he felt when he was a young boy as he had suffered from several serious diseases during his youth.
Who is Modigliani? Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was born in 1884 in Livorno in the Northwest of Italy and died in 1920 in Paris. He was draughtsman, painter, and sculptor, but is best known for his paintings. He primarily created portraits and nudes, and these paintings are characterized by strongly elongated features. He painted several pictures of a reclining nude woman, one of which is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. An example of his many portraits with elongated features is his portrait of Anna Zborowska in the Museum of Modern Art. Modigliani’s works were not positively received during his life but became very popular after his death. In 2015, one of his works – a reclining nude - sold for $170.4 million, making it to the top 10 of most expensive paintings ever sold.
Fun fact: The paintings of Modigliani are a popular target for art forgers. There are three reasons for this. First, his works appear relatively simple and thus don’t require as much skill to forge as the works of some other artists. Second, his works are sold for very high prices. Third, he created many works, and there is a period early in his career about which there is uncertainty on how many paintings he created. Modigliani, supposedly, had a time where he would exchange a painting for a drink with strangers on the street. A striking example of how popular Modigliani’s work is among forgers was a 2017 exhibition of his works in Genoa, Italy. The exhibition was closed early because there was a suspicion that it may contain some forgeries. It turned out that 20 of the 30 works attributed to Modigliani were fake.
Written by Eelco Kappe