Furthermore, it was Modigliani’s brief but significant stint as a sculptor that left an enduring impression on his work. The hieratic qualities of the carved, stone heads, and their indebtedness to primitive artifacts, were ably transferred onto canvas once he had laid down this chisels. Discussing this development, Werner Schmalenbach writes: “The early portraits - those painted in 1915 and 1916, immediately after the sculpture period - are marked by a considerable degree of structuring applied to the human face. They are simplified and are endowed to a greater or lesser degree with articulation and rhythm, by the formal manipulations to which they are subjected. Often this formal process has taken place in the pencil studies that precede the paintings. Characteristic features are asymmetry and, as we have seen, an emphasis on the nose, whether linear or stereometric; closed or hatched-over eyes; and added lettering. The faces threaten to veer out of control, but the cause is never expressive, always formal, and never prevents the emergence of a characteristic and individual expression” (W. Schmalenbach, Amedeo Modigliani. Painting. Sculptures. Drawings (exhibition catalogue), Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, 1991, p. 31).
The first owner of the present work was Paul Guillaume, the celebrated Parisian dealer and collector. Guillaume was one of the most fascinating figures of the 1910s and 20s, whose eclectic taste and commercial perspicacity led him to become one of the most successful and influential dealers of the early twentieth century. In particular it was his early interest in African sculpture that was to have the greatest impact. Guillaume started out working for a car garage that imported rubber from Africa. One day a shipment of rubber arrived also containing a tribal mask from Gabon. Intrigued, Guillaume sought out similar examples in museums. Encouraged by his friend Apollinaire, Guillaume set himself up as a dealer in art nègre which he imported directly from Africa, and would frequently exchange with artists for their own works. This arrangement would eventually lead to his handling the works of Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Derain, de Chirico and Utrillo. In 1914 he met Modigliani through Max Jacob, becoming his primary dealer for the next few years, as well as one of his most devoted collectors.
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