My review of the Modigliani Exhibition at the Tate Modern
Below is a blog that is based on my vlog about my visit to the Modigliani exhibition at the Tate Modern. In the video, I share some of my highlights from the exhibition, what I call my “3 Es”, and some insight into the compositions and colours of Modigliani. Please note, I’ve edited this blog from the original video version for clarity and brevity. To see the full video go here for Facebook and here for YouTube.
What is my weekly vlog series of Dispatches from the Art Studio videos?
Hi everyone, welcome! My name is Vera. I’m a London-based, nature inspired abstract artist. Welcome to my weekly video series “Dispatches from the Art Studio” where I share with you a little bit about myself and my artwork as well as my influences and inspirations.
At the Modigliani Exhibition at the Tate Modern.
This week, I’m here at the Tate Modern - you might be able to see the brand new wing of the Tate Modern behind me. I wanted to come to see the Modigliani exhibition. I’ve been a fan of Modigliani’s work for a very long time, so when I found out that the Tate Modern is doing a special exhibition about him, I ran down and I had to see it. If you’re not familiar with his work, he’s known for painting stylistically exaggerated portraits – a lot of his portraits feature elongated necks, almost swan-like necks, and angular sharp facial features. But in addition to his portraits’ facial features, his colours are very rich and his compositions are very complex. Today, I wanted to share with you a little bit about my highlights from visiting the exhibition.
Whenever I look at an exhibition that is a one-artist exhibition, I always look for three elements that I have named “the 3 Es” – Evolution, Education, and Experimentation.
My 3 Es - Evolution
When I think about Evolution, I think about the fact that Modigliani is known for painting these elongated necks and very angular features, but that’s something that he evolved into over time. His early work does not feature those elements as prominently. It’s quite interesting to see his artistic evolution and how some of those features that he’s ultimately very well known for grew over time and became his style over time.
My 3 Es - Experimentation
The other aspect of the 3Es is Experimentation. I personally did not know that Modigliani did a lot of sculpture. There’s a whole room in the exhibition that is dedicated to his sculpture, which really quite fascinating, very good, and was well received at the time. So it’s quite interesting to learn a bit more about that aspect of his work that he wasn’t just purely a painter but he also worked in 3D, (in sculpture) which is a whole different skill set. And in terms of the Experimentation, he worked in a few different media – ultimately he always focused on painting but the fact that he experimented with different ways of working I thought was quite interesting.
My 3 Es - Education
The last of the 3Es is Education. He was somebody who moved from Italy to Paris, which I can imagine that it was quite a different cultural experience. He surrounded himself with other artists, a lot of who were also from different countries and had come to Paris. At that time, Paris seemed to be the nexus for art, art lovers, and artists. In terms of the Education aspect of the 3Es, his friendships were with fellow artists and many of them worked alongside each other. And many of those artists were exploring different ways of working and creating and exploring various artistic movements, including Cubism. The Education element comes into play when you think about some of the influences that he took from those friendships and fellow artists that he incorporated into his own work. There are also some influences that he actively did not want to incorporate into his own work, because they didn’t speak to him. To me it’s always interesting the education element of the 3Es, and certainly for me as an artist, coming to exhibitions like this, looking for inspiration, education, and just learning from other people and seeing what I respond to and what I want to incorporate into my own work and what I don’t think speaks to me that much.
The other aspect that I found quite fascinating about Modigliani’s work is his colours. When you think about Modigliani, perhaps his use of colour is not the first thing that comes to mind. But it should be one of the top things. There are three rich colours that he used quite a lot throughout all his works that I particularly love. One is a slate-purple blue grey, which is a wonderful colour and it does remind me of slate (the material). The other colour is a rich burgundy and lot of his nude paintings have a lot of rich burgundy in them – a deep red wine colour. And the third colour that I found very prominent in his work is ochre, almost like a mustard deep golden yellow. Those three colours you see throughout his whole career, whether they’re slightly darker, or softer and more nuanced. Those three colours seem to be colours that he gravitated towards throughout his whole career and they are three colours that I particularly love. And whether consciously or subconsciously, I find myself using more and more of them in my own work.
Juxtaposition of angular faces and soft curvaceous bodies
The other interesting part of the Modigliani exhibition is his nude paintings. In the exhibition, there are a couple of big rooms with his nude paintings, and there are a few interesting elements about them. One is that even though his faces in these nude paintings continue to be quite angular and sharp, and almost severe looking, his bodies are not. His bodies are very soft and round and curvaceous and supple and voluptuous… whether you’re talking about the thighs or the belly or the breasts, they’re very soft, they’re very round. Even though the faces themselves are still quite severe and angular, the bodies are soft, and that juxtaposition is quite an interesting element in the way he worked.
Could Modigliani paint feet?
The other thing that I noticed as an artist certainly is that all the nudes except for two paintings always have the feet cut off. I’m not quite sure whether that was a conscious choice that he wanted to somehow make the composition seem as if the woman was floating and to not tie her down and ground her. But part of me wonders whether it was more practical situation. Whether it was just a matter of him not feeling particularly comfortable painting feet. Sometimes, that’s the way art works – there’s elements that you feel very comfortable with and very competent with and there’s other elements that are maybe less so. So it might have just been a practicality that painting feet wasn’t really his strong point. But that is definitely something that once you notice, you can’t help but notice that almost all his nude paintings, the feet of the composition are cut off.
Composition and asymmetry
There is one striking element of all his compositions that I particularly love and that is that he always played with asymmetry.
There is a lot of scientific work that has been done that talks about symmetry in the human form and symmetry in terms of the way that we as humans perceive other people. There is scientific data and research that shows that we find other people more attractive the more symmetrical their features are. And despite that, all of Modigliani’s compositions are always asymmetrical. Whether it’s the faces - the subject is looking a bit to the side, maybe the chin is a bit down, or a bit up. Whether the head is tilted to one side. Whether it’s the torso – the shoulder is up, the shoulder is down, there’s an elbow, an arm… He plays with asymmetry in his compositions quite a lot providing further interest. Also, when you’re looking at the person – at the subject matter – it’s never a portrait dead on. It’s always a bit to one side or a bit to the other side, of the canvas and I find that particularly interesting that composition mattered to him. It wasn’t just a matter of painting a portrait of the person as they are but there was a colour choice, there was composition, it was the way the person was standing and what that said about them. I think all that mattered to Modigliani as an artist.
Modigliani's painted eyes - a mystery
The other element about the portraits that I suppose continues to be a bit of a mystery is the eyes. There is this quote that is ascribed to him that he allegedly said, “I will paint your eyes when I know your soul”. A lot of people talk about that quote when they talk about why he didn’t paint eyes. You will notice, a lot of the eyes in his portraits are either very dark or very light – he very rarely painted eyes as they actually are.
I don’t know if I understand that fully, to be honest. To me that’s still a mystery, because a lot of his portraits were of people that he knew really well. They weren’t just random strangers or models. A lot of his portraits were his close friends, his lovers, and the mother of his children. And presumably, he knew those people quite well, he knows their soul. To me, this remains a mystery - why he chose to not paint a lot of the eyes as they are. It’s also a mystery because, he could do it. There are a lot of paintings where he clearly paints eyes as they are – he’s comfortable with painting eyes, he’s competent at it. And yet for most of his paintings he chose not to. And I suppose that’s the mystery that continues to this day and that is one of the many intriguing things about Modigliani and his life and his work.
Thank you for joining me this week!
Well, that’s it from me for this week, it’s quite chilly out here. Thank you very much for joining me. If you have a chance to see the Modigliani exhibit at the Tate Modern, it’s on until early April and I highly recommend it! Prepare yourself, it will probably be quite busy. But if you’re a member like me, it’s fantastic because you can go in and out quite quickly and go in as many times as you want. I’ve already seen the Modigliani exhibition four times and it’s just been on for about a month and a half.
Let's connect in real life and on social media!
So thank you very much for joining me! I hope you’re enjoying these weekly video series of Dispatches from the Art Studio. Whether you want to connect with me in real life at the Wimbledon Art Studios or at one of the other events that I do, or whether you want to connect online, at my website at www.veraveraonthewall.com or if you love your social media like I do, I’m on pretty much everything from Facebook to Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Ello, YouTube, and my handle is always @veraveraonthewall.
Thank you so much for joining me this week and I hope to see you next time. From the Tate Modern and the Modigliani exhibition, thank you again. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, have a lovely week! Bye!
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