Léopold Zborowski, Paris (acquired from the artist)
E. Khoury, Paris (by 1933)
C.M. Michaelis, Esq., London (sold: Sotheby's, London, May 4, 1960, lot 100)
T. Grange (acquired at the above sale)
Perls Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1991)
Acquired from the above in 1992
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Exposition rétrospective Modigliani, 1933, no. 26
Basel, Kunsthalle, Rétrospective Modigliani, 1934, no. 18
Arthur Pfannsteil, Modigliani et son oeuvre, Paris, 1956, no. 233, catalogued p. 129
J. Lanthemann, Modigliani, 1884-1920, Catalogue Raisonné, Barcelona, 1970, no. 227, illustrated p. 220
Léopold Zborowski (circa 1889-1932) was Modigliani's primary dealer and confidant during the final years of the artist's life. A Polish émigré from an upper-middle class family near Lvov, Zborowski moved to Paris in 1910 to study literature, but could not make a living as an amateur poet. To support himself, he began trading rare books, manuscripts, sketches and miniatures, and eventually tried his hand as a dealer of fine art. Through his involvement in the bohemian circles of Paris he was introduced to the artists Moise Kisling and Maurice Utrillo, and offered to sell their works out of his apartment on the rue Joseph Bara. When he first saw Modigliani's paintings at an exhibition in 1915, Zborowski had already formed a reputation as a fledgling dealer and decided to invest his energy in promoting the artist's work. The young Italian painter had been represented by the well-established dealer Paul Guillaume up until that point, but he was flattered and intrigued by Zborowski's attention and signed a contract with him in 1916. In the years that followed, Modigliani and Zborowski formed an intense personal and professional relationship, both depending on each other's success and talent.
As his career developed under Zborowski's support and encouragement, Modigliani refined his talent as a portrait painter, executing the likenesses of his friends, mistresses and fellow artists. Among the most well-regarded of these works are his portraits of Zbrowoski, including this one, which provides a straightforward depiction of the dealer looking directly at the viewer. In contrast to another well-known, more formal representation of him dressed in a suit and tie (see fig. 3), the figure in the present work is dressed more casually, and the attention here is on his face rather than his accoutrements, similar to another portrait the artist completed in 1918 (see fig. 4). This frank representation reveals Zborowski's approachability and Modigliani's ease and familiarity with him, perhaps best demonstrated by the intimate way he paints his friend's absorbing, green eyes.
This painting dates from 1917, and by that time Modigliani had become widely known throughout Paris, thanks largely to Zborowski's tireless promotion. Throughout the last years of the artist's life, the dealer proved many times to be Modigliani's greatest champion and financial guardian, often giving the artist cash advances and paying off his debts. But despite his generosity and effusive encouragement, there was a profit motive behind Zborowski's actions, and his support for the artist was laced with a genuine concern for selling his paintings. Like Modigliani, Zborowski was often heavily in arrears, and his career was marred by financial mismanagement that eventually resulted in bankruptcy by the time of his death in 1932. Zborowski's dependency on the profitability of his artists was well-noted by his contemporaries, who were sometimes surprised at the inappropriateness of his callous behavior. Kenneth Wayne provides an account of an exhibition of Modigliani's work in 1919: "During the exhibition, Modigliani suffered a serious relapse in heath, and it looked as if he were going to die. As Osbert [a collaborator on the exhibition] described the situation: '...a telegram came for Zborowski from his Parisian colleagues to inform him (of Modigliani's worsening health); the message ended with a suggestion that he should hold up all sales until the outcome of the painter's illness was known. My brother, who was inexpressibly shocked at this example of businessmen's callousness, showed me the cable, and Zborowski asked us personally to refuse to sell, if a possible purchaser was to appear.' Zborowski was waiting to see if Modigliani died, in which case he would have immediately raised Modigliani's prices" (Kenneth Wayne, Modigliani and The Artists of Montparnasse (exhibition catalogue), Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2002-03, p. 73).
Notwithstanding these accounts of his character, the dealer was deeply committed to selling Modigliani's pictures, and readily expressed his fascination with the artist's work. According to Modigliani's contemporary, Francis Carco, there could be no mistaking Zborowski's enthusiasm for these pictures: "When you went to see Zborowski, he would run out to buy a candle, pop it into the neck of a bottle, then lead you into a bare, narrow, desolate room, in one corner of which lay a huge pile of Modigliani's works. By the light of the candle, he would show you absolute treasures, passionately caressing them with hand and eye, then, fascinated, he would begin talking, moving about the room, cursing the fate that weighed on Modigliani and spitting with disgust. The more he gestured, the more fluently words came to express his magnificent, surging enthusiam for these paintings: nudes, figures, and portraits, all painted without a thought for convention, in which Modigliani's manner and art were dazzingly affirmed. 'What poetry' was his ecstatic cry" (Francis Carco, De Montmatre au Quartier Latin, Paris, 1927, pp. 171-73, reprinted in Modigliani, L'ange au visage grave (exhibition catalogue), Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2002-03, p. 275).
Fig. 1, Léopold Zborowski, photograph Klüver/Martin Archive
Fig. 2, The artist and Zborowski (two figures on the right) at Osterlind's, Cagnes-sur-Mer, 1918. Photograph Archives Jean Bouret - Paul Guillaume.
Fig. 3, Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait de Léopold Zborowski, 1916, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 4, Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait de Léopold Zborowski, 1918, oil on canvas, Private Collection
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