The story that links Amedeo Modigliani to Paul Alexandre is more than the simple tale of a friendship. It was also an extraordinary relationship between an artist and his first patron.
The two men met in November 1907 in the mythical Maison du Delta in Montmartre, provided for young artists by the Doctor Paul Alexandre and his brother Jean. Passionate about art, the young Paul Alexandre was at the time training as a doctor in the Lariboisière hospital. With his brother, he created a circle of artist friends known as the “Delta colony” around the sculptor Maurice Drouart and the artists Henri Doucet, Albert Gleizes, later joined by the sculptor Constantin Brancusi. In 1907 this circle settled at 7 rue du Delta in abandoned premises which, in exchange for a modest rent, Paul and Jean Alexandre transformed into a place of exchange and mutual aid for the artists.
It was here that Paul Alexandre met Amedeo Modigliani who had just arrived in Paris. According to the account of Paul Alexandre’s son Noël Alexandre, “It was Doucet who brought him to the Delta for the first time […]. Modigliani told Doucet that he had been thrown out of a small studio that he occupied on the Place Jean-Baptiste Clément and that he had nowhere to go… Doucet offered him to come to the Delta where he could stay if he wanted and where he could lodge with his things. This was how my friendship with Modigliani began. I was 26 years old, Modigliani 23, and my brother 21.” (Modigliani Inconnu, p. 53-54).
The two men immediately became close friends and their friendship lasted until August 1914 when the doctor was enlisted and sent to the front. During these seven years, Paul Alexandre was not only a friend and advisor to Modigliani, but also his only financial supporter, purchasing in the space of only a few years, hundreds of drawings and several major paintings, including the works presented in this lot.
It was only after his death in 1968 that this fabulous collection was rediscovered, notably thanks to the endeavors of his son Noël Alexandre. The presentation at auction for the first time of Portrait inachevé de Paul Alexandre, painted in 1913, as well as two drawings representing Paul Alexander until now kept in the family’s property, is the occasion to pay tribute to the exceptional path of this visionary collector who played a decisive role in the launch of Modigliani’s career.
“I was immediately struck by his extraordinary talent and I wanted to do something for him. I purchased drawings and paintings from him, but I was his sole purchaser and I wasn’t rich. I introduced him to my family. He already had the certainty of his own value rooted inside him. He knew that he was an initiator, not an imitator, but he had no commissions. I asked him to paint the portraits of my father, my brother Jean and several portraits of myself.” (Paul Alexandre, cited in Noël Alexandre, Modigliani Inconnu, Paris, 1993, p. 59).
The Portrait inachevé de Paul Alexandre is one of the few paintings that Paul Alexandre commissioned from Modigliani between 1909 and 1913 in order to financially support the young artist. This young doctor and visionary collector, was indeed the sole financial support and only collector during Modigliani’s first years in Paris, enabling the artist to pursue his art. This deep friendship between the two men allowed Paul Alexandre to gather a vast collection of works by this artist, including almost all the drawings made by Modigliani before the war and several major paintings. This incredible collection was hidden from prying eyes, until his death in 1968. ,Jeanne Modigliani said of him: “He was the kind of increasingly rare collector in love with art in the deepest sense of the word, the joy and despair of researchers: joy because he kept intact works of indisputable authenticity, dating from the period of Modigliani’s beginnings; despair because he jealously protected the works and no one could claim to have seen the entire collection.” (Jeanne Modigliani, Modigliani, Une Biographie, Paris, 1990, p. 64).
The present portrait is part of a series of 5 portraits commissioned by Paul Alexandre from Modigliani between 1909 and 1913. Dating from 1913, it was painted at the same time as Paul Alexandre devant un vitrage, now in the collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen, and differs radically in technique and palette from earlier portraits, in particular the two painted in 1909. This portrait of Paul Alexandre is striking above all for its incredible modernity, which places it apart in Modigliani’s artistic corpus: the stylized forms, the rapid execution, the spontaneous brushstroke and the particular free and audacious treatment of matter and colour demonstrate how Modigliani already carried the germination of the innovations of 20th century art. Whilst the treatment of colour plays on the effects of transparency in a clear demonstration of Modigliani’s admiration for Cézanne, the geometrical features of the face testify to the influence of his sculptural work in the paintings. Thus we find here the same outline as the faces of his stone caryatids, made between 1910 and 1913, and reduced to a few lines.
On deposit until now at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, this major portrait always belonged to the family. Only rarely shown to the public, except on the rare occasion of prestigious exhibitions in Korea and recently at the Jewish Museum in New York (Modigliani Unmasked), this portrait not only highlights the exceptional relationship between Amedeo Modigliani and the Doctor Paul Alexandre, but also casts a new light on the artist’s early Parisian works.