By Charles Matthews

Sunday, July 10, 2011

6. Modigliani: A Life, by Meryle Secrest, pp. 193-250

Chapter 10: Beatrice; Chapter 11: A Stony Silence

In the summer of 1914 Modigliani began a two-year love affair with Beatrice Hastings, a South African-born woman who was the literary editor of New Age, a weekly magazine published in London. Like his previous love, Anna Akhmatova, Hastings was a poet, and the fact that she shared a name with Dante's beloved may also have attracted him as a good omen. (In fact, she had been born Emily Alice Haigh.)  She was thirty-five, five years his senior. She wrote that he was "the spoiled child of the quarter, enfant sometimes terrible but always forgiven -- half Paris is in morally illegal possession of his designs." The affair with Hastings almost certainly meant an upgrade in Modigliani's living conditions.

When the war broke out in August 1914, Modigliani, as an Italian citizen and therefore a neutral in the conflict, was spared the pressure to enlist -- which was just as well, for the physical would have exposed the medical condition he was trying to conceal. Although her publisher wanted her to stay in England, she decided to return to France, and arrived just before England declared war on Germany. As a Socialist, like Modigliani, she also opposed the war on the grounds that it was a capitalist conflict.

For a while, Paris was in danger, as the Germans swept through Belgium and by September were fifty miles from the city. But by Christmas the conflicted had settled in for its long stay in the trenches. Paris was still under siege, and shortages were severe, but Modigliani was used to getting by on very little.

Modigliani was by now devoting himself almost completely to painting, and Beatrice's contacts began to prove useful. In the summer of 1914 Jacob Epstein had arranged for him to exhibit two sculptures in London, and early in 1915, Paul Guillaume arranged Modigliani's first show in New York: twenty-four works, mostly drawings but also including a pastel, a painting, and two stone heads. He began attracting collectors, including André Level and Paul Poiret. It was a timely change in fortune, for he was no longer receiving support from home.

He also became in demand for portraits. Frank Burty Haviland, a painter and art collector, was the subject of several portraits.
The Haviland portrait ... shows the subject in profile and the style influenced by pointillism. Flavio Fergonzi writes that "the broken and choppy brushstrokes generate a vibrant luminous effect" and the conception "is ... strongly indebted to the months that Modigliani spent working on sculpture."
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Frank Burty Haviland, 1914 (Source)
Another success at this time was a portrait of Diego Rivera, with whom Modigliani shared a studio for a while.
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Diego Rivera, 1916. Secrest: "The small, pursed, full-lipped, fat man's mouth, the narrowed eyes, and the enigmatic half-smile, executed in a burst of whorls and scribbles, give one an immediate impression of a man as engaging as he was violently unpredictable." (Source)
Many of Modigliani's friends had gone to war. Paul Alexandre became a military doctor and was not released from his service until 1919. Maurice Drouard and Henri Doucet were killed, and Apollinaire was wounded in the head and died of his injury. Léger and Braque were wounded and discharged. Although Paul Guillaume was enlisted, he was discharged and returned to business in 1915. The artists who met in the cafés were mostly foreigners. One Russian exile, Marie Vassilieff, started a kind of canteen in her studio. Modigliani went there regularly, and according to one story, "when drunk, he would begin undressing under the eager eyes of the faded English and American girls who frequented the canteen. He would stand very erect and undo his girdle [sash] ... then let his trousers slip down to his ankles ... then display himself quite naked, slim and white, his torso arched."

Beatrice loved dressing up as much as Modigliani enjoyed undressing, and one story has her going out on the streets "dressed up as Madame de Pompadour -- or perhaps as Marie Antoinette in shepherdess outfit, carrying a crook." One of the portraits Modigliani made of her is called Madam Pompadour.
Amedeo Modigliani, Madam Pompadour, 1915 (Source)
Madam Pompadour was shown at the first exhibition at the Lyre et Palette, a large studio run by the Swiss painter Emile Lejeune that was not only a venue for art exhibitions but also a concert hall. The group of composers that became known as "Les Six" after the war began giving concerts there. "Going to the Lyre et Palette became so fashionable that the limousines of the wealthy, slumming it from the Right Bank, would jam the narrow streets." Modigliani was introduced to the Lyre et Palette set by the Polish artist Moïse Kisling.
Amedeo Modigliani, Portait of Moïse Kisling, 1915. (Source)
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Madame Kisling, c. 1917 (Source)
Moïse and his wife, Renée, held a Wednesday luncheon that often lasted into the evening. "One never knew whom one might find there: writers, actors, lawyers, politicians, scientists, musicians, architects, and, of course, artists." At their wedding party, Modigliani took center stage by playing the ghost of Hamlet's father, wrapping himself in a sheet he snatched from the bridal bed, to Renée Kisling's dismay. The party seems to have lasted several days, for four days after the wedding, Moïse Kisling was found passed out naked in the gutter on the boulevard du Montparnasse.

Modigliani was now devoting much of his efforts to portraits of Beatrice.
He painted himself as Pierrot during his relationship with Hastings. Complete with black cap and ruffle, one eye socket, the left, was blank, and the other eye looked outward. 
Amedeo Modigliani, Self-Portrait as Pierrot, 1915 (Source)
A year later, 1916, either he or Beà had the notion of painting a companion portrait of her. Pierrot's pose, in three-quarter face, is truned to the left of the viewer; in the 1916 portrait of Beà, the pose is to the right. 
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Beatrice Hastings, 1916. (Source)
Her features are more delicately drawn but otherwise identical; here are the same highly marked eyebrows, the same upturned nose, the same position of the mouth, the same jawline, and the same neck, turned at the same angle. There are some minor differences; the treatment of the eyes is more conventional and the lips are parted. The color schemes are complementary, and the general effect suggests that the two were meant to be hung together, so that each is looking in the direction of the other, in the middle of a conversation. 
Eventually, Modigliani's alcoholism began to take its toll on their relationship. Hastings wrote that he would become "a craving, violent bad boy, overturning tables, never paying his score and insulting his best friends, including me. I used to burn with rage and the impossibility of leaving him to his fate."

As Modigliani became more and more a specialist in portraits, he developed a characteristic style: "The elongated neck, the frequent lack of a collar, and the use of a V-neckline for emphasis is invariable seen in Modigliani's portraits of women." One critic joked that he got the long-neck trait by looking at "his mistress through the neck of an absinthe bottle." But it is likely that he developed this characteristic by emulating a painter he admired: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whose portrait of his dead wife, Elizabeth Siddal, Beata Beatrix, Modigliani surely knew:
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, 1872 (Source)
Some of the gauntness of Modigliani's women may also be a product of his awareness of "the Romantic tradition of the consumptive.... The many portraits of Lunia Czechowska and Hanka Zborowska, in particular, exemplify the long-limbed, languorous, unsmiling, secretly suffering tradition of the heroine marked for death."
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Lunia Czechowska, 1918 (Source)
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Hanka Zborowska, 1919 (Source)
This trait never appears in his nudes or in his portraits of children. As for his men, they are usually "buttoned to the ears with collars, ties, jackets, scarves, and turtlenecks. This, curiously, points to another historical fact: men suffering from consumption notoriously concealed their necks" because of blemishes caused by the disease.

Portraiture had been revolutionized in 1906 by Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein.
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906 (Source)
Picasso's influence on Modigliani's portraiture is evident, but he never took it to the next step as Picasso did, trying "to see how far he can rearrange facial features and still have them be recognizable." Modigliani was trying instead "to simplify and reduce to the irreducible minimum the essence of a personality without actually losing it altogether."

When he decided to give up sculpture and devote himself to painting, Modigliani's rate of production accelerated. By one authoritative account, he did seven paintings in 1914, fifty-three in 1915, fifty-eight in 1916 and again in 1917, sixty-six in 1918. "In 1919, the final year of his life, when he became seriously ill, he still managed to execute fifty-four paintings." That he was constantly drawing kept him in shape to execute paintings swiftly. He often left paintings intentionally unfinished.
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Henri Laurens, 1915 (Source)
In his 1915 portrait of Henri Laurens, the artist's predilection for leaving large areas untouched is on display. the seated sitter, bearded and wearing a prominent tie, is missing an eye, a leg, a hand, and most of the background. The portrait is executed in soft greenish and blueish grays, with emphatic touches of dark brown and gray. The shoulders are distorted and the paint is handled like watercolor. Even so, the result is curiously satisfying, as the artist must have realized. It has a unity of vision all its own, and Modigliani was superstitious about spoiling any study that seemed to have reached a certain stage of completion, even if only fragmentary. 
Amedeo Modigliani, Little Girl in Blue, 1918 (Source)
Another masterpiece is a lifesize portrait of a girl, perhaps aged eight or ten, in a nocturne of soft blues, looking at the viewer with shy directness. [Werner] Schmalenbach wrote that the painter's delicate understanding of these subjects is all the more intense "because nothing is mannered." 
The painter Leopold Survage wrote that Modigliani began with "an initial conception of main lines and angulations, which represented the sitter and extended outwards to take in surrounding objects such as chairs, tables, wall corners and door and window frames, he scattered, rhythmically and in a strictly geometrical style, a fllod of detail that was painted with great delicacy and force. So fond was he of fathoming the unfathomable that it did not weary him to do seventeen or even nineteen portraits of the same person at near intervals."

The Lithuanian sculptor Léon Indenbaum lived in the same building with Modigliani after he moved in with Hastings. One night, Indenbaum was on his way home when he found Modigliani sitting on a bench outside the Rotonde, rather drunk. He sat down beside him and after a while Modigliani asked if he had any paints and canvases. Indenbaum said yes, and Modigliani said he'd paint his portrait the next morning. The sittings took three mornings, and Modigliani gave Indenbaum the painting. Indenbaum at first refused, but Modigliani insisted. So when Indenbaum had some money he bought one of Modigliani's sculptures, but never picked it up. After a while, Modigliani sold it again to someone else. Then one day Indenbaum needed money, so he sold the painting. On his way out of the dealer's, he ran into Modigliani and, embarrassed, confessed that he had sold the portrait. "Modigliani replied, 'Quite right, too,' without a moment's hesitation. 'Don't worry, I'll paint you another one.' But he never did."
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Léon Indenbaum, 1915 (Source)
When Jacques and Berthe Lipchitz married, they asked Modigliani if he would paint their portrait. He agreed to a fee of ten francs per sitting, plus some alcohol. He finished the portrait in one sitting, to Lipchitz's surprise. Knowing that Modigliani would refuse anything that looked like charity, Lipchitz suggested that the painting should have a higher finish and offered another ten francs. Modigliani agreed, though he it would spoil the painting, and took another week to finish it, though to Lipchitz's eye he made no appreciable change in it.
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Jacques and Berthe Lipchitz, 1917 (Source)
The painting, now at the Art Institute of Chicago, is one of Modigliani's most self-assured and least ambiguous. Unlike Bride and Groom of the year before, which is an experiment in geometrics, the Lipchitz portrait is a model of relaxed and graceful ease.... It was the only other wedding portrait Modigliani would paint, and one of his best-known works.
Amedeo Modigliani, Bride and Groom (The Couple), c. 1915 (Source)
Despite Modigliani's attempts to keep his illness a secret, there were rumors that he had tuberculosis. Whether Beatrice Hastings knew it is another question. If he was coughing up blood, it would be difficult to hide it from the woman he was living with, and Beatrice had a friend, Simone Thiroux, who was also consumptive. She had met Modigliani, and it's not unlikely that she would have recognized the symptoms in him. There is also a rumor that Hastings had had a daughter by Modigliani who died as an infant. Hastings seems to have been the source of the rumor herself, telling one of Modigliani's models about it.

In the summer of 1916 the affair began to come to an end when Hastings discovered Modigliani and her friend Simone Thiroux together at the Rotonde and threw a glass at Thiroux, cutting her above the eye and leaving a permanent scar. Hastings began an affair with an Italian sculptor, Alfredo Pina. The Russian-born painter Marie Vorobieff, known as Marevna, tells a story that Modigliani once pushed Hastings through a closed window, but the story appears in none of the memoirs of the other people who supposedly witnessed the event, and "if true, her version of events would have been all over Montparnasse the next day."

Another violent incident is said to have taken place at a party given by Marie Vassilieff in honor of Georges Braque in 1917. Braque had been seriously wounded and was given the Légion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre before being invalided out of combat. Vassilieff invited everyone in the artistic community, including Picasso, Juan Gris, and Matisse. But Modigliani was not invited, because Hastings insisted on coming to the party with Alfredo Pina. Nevertheless, Modigliani burst into the room, and Pina, who had brought a gun with him, drew it. Some say he fired and missed, but Vassilieff doesn't mention it. She did, however, draw a sketch of the incident.
Marie Vassilieff's sketch of the incident at Braque's party. Modigliani has just come through the door at top. Clockwise from bottom left around the table: Vassilieff (holding a knife), Matisse (holding a turkey), Blaise Cendrars (who lost an arm in the war), Picasso, Marcelle Braque, Walther Halvorsen, Léger (in cap), Max Jacob, Beatrice Hastings, Alfredo Pina (pointing gun), Braque (wearing a laurel wreath), Juan Gris, unknown man. (Source)
Modigliani was ousted and the door was locked. And the affair with Beatrice Hastings was over. She returned to England where she committed suicide in 1943, age sixty-four.

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