- Amedeo Modigliani
- Signed Modigliani (lower left)
- Oil on canvas
Paul Guillaume, Paris (acquired by 1929)
Mme Hostetler, Paris
Carstairs Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above on April 23, 1953
Palm Beach, Society of the Four Arts & Miami, Lowe Gallery, Amedeo Modigliani, 1954, no. 9
Buffalo, New York, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Fifty Paintings, 1905-1913, 1955, no. 34, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, Perls Gallery, Amedeo Modigliani, 1963
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Collects, 1968, no. 105
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Modigliani, 1971, no. 2, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Amedeo Modigliani, 1981, no. 6, illustrated in color in the catalogue and on the catalogue cover
Washington, D.C., The National Gallery of Art, Modigliani: An Anniversary Exhibition, 1983-84
Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art & Aichi, Prefectural Art Gallery, Modigliani, 1985, no. 11, illustrated in color in the catalogue (titled L’Amazone [The Riding Habit])
New York, The Jewish Museum, Gardens and Ghettos: The Art of Jewish Life in Italy, 1989-90, no. 275, illustrated in color in the catalogue fig. 139
Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Modigliani, 1990, no. 7, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Tokyo, Musée Tobu; Kyoto, Musée Daimaru de Kyoto; Osaka, Musée Daimaru d’Umeda & Ibaraki, Musée d’Art Moderne, Amedeo Modigliani au Japon, 1992-93, no. 8, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Raffaello Franchi, Modigliani, Florence, 1946, illustrated pl. II (as dating from 1908)
Gualtieri di San Lazzaro, Modigliani: Peintures, Paris, 1953, illustrated p. 4
Arthur Pfannstiel, Modigliani et son oeuvre: Étude critique et catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1956, no. 9
Ambrogio Ceroni, Amedeo Modigliani, peintre, suivi des "Souvenirs" de Lunia Czechowska, Milan, 1958, no. 17, illustrated
Alfred Werner, Amedeo Modigliani, New York, 1968, illustrated in color p. 75 (titled The Equestrienne [L’Amazone])
Gaston Diehl, Modigliani, Paris & New York, 1969, p. 11
Joseph Lanthemann, Modigliani, catalogue raisonné: sa vie, son oeuvre, son art, Barcelona, 1970, no. 27, illustrated p. 167, fig. 27
Leone Piccioni & Ambrogio Ceroni, I dipinti di Modigliani, Milan, 1970, no. 21, illustrated p. 88
Yasuo Kamon, Modigliani, Utrillo, 1971, no. 16, illustrated p. 195, fig. 4
Ambrogio Ceroni, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Modigliani, Paris, 1972, no. 21, illustrated
Douglas Hall, Modigliani, Edinburgh, 1979, illustrated pl. 7
Carol Mann, Modigliani, London, 1980, p. 51, illustrated p. 52, fig. 28
Jacques Lassaigne, Tout Modigliani, la peinture, Paris, 1982, illustrated p. 16
Thérèse Castieau-Barrielle, La vie et l'oeuvre de Amedeo Modigliani, Paris, 1987, illustrated p. 35
Christian Parisot, Modigliani, catalogue raisonné: peintures, dessins, aquarelles, vol. I, Livorno, 1990, illustrated in color p. 36; vol. II, 1991, no. 7/1909, illustrated in color p. 38
Christian Parisot, Modigliani, Paris, 1991, illustrated in color p. 23
Osvaldo Patani, Amedeo Modigliani, catalogo generale: dipinti, vol. 1, Milan, 1991, no. 27, illustrated in color p. 58
Osvaldo Patani, Amedeo Modigliani: catalogo generale, sculture e disegni, 1904-1914, Milan, 1992, illustrated p. 81
Noel Alexandre, Modigliani inconnu: témoignages, documents et dessins enédits de l'ancienne collection Paul Alexandre (exhibition catalogue), Venice, Palazzo Grassi & other venues, Paris, 1993, p. 86, illustrated in color p. 88
Pierre Durieu, Modigliani, Paris, 1995, p. 50, no. 4, illustrated in color p. 51
Doris Krystof, Amedeo Modigliani, 1884-1920: The Poetry of Seeing, Cologne, 1996, p. 20, illustrated in color p. 17
Modigliani (exhibition catalogue), Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome, 2006, p. 94, illustrated in color p. 95, fig. 1
Jeffrey Meyers, Modigliani, A Life, New York, 2006, p. 52, illustrated between pp. 112-113
Meryle Secrest, Modigliani, A Life, New York, 2011, illustrated
The subject of this painting is Baroness Marguerite de Hasse de Villers, a glamorous socialite and the lover of Paul Alexandre’s younger brother Jean, who commissioned this portrait of his girlfriend in 1909. Marguerite poses in her riding habit, with her gloved hand on hip and her sly glance at the artist transgressing the boundary of her rarefied status. Sensational as it is, the portrait proved to be one of Modigliani’s greatest challenges. Progress was slow from the start, with a frustrated Modigliani repeatedly threatening to destroy what he had already completed. “The portrait seems to be coming along well, but I’m afraid it will probably change ten times again before it’s finished,” Jean reported to his brother Paul (quoted in Meryle Secrest, Modigliani, A Life, New York, 2011, p. 124). One of the major preoccupations was Marguerite’s jacket, which Modigliani continuously reworked and recolored from red to yellow-ochre. The resulting image was so astonishingly avant-garde that Marguerite apparently did not recognize herself. But the prescient Paul Alexandre, whose portrait was also painted by Modigliani during this time, instantly saw the genius in this picture and acquired it for his own collection.
Modigliani’s preliminary drawings for L’Amazone, also in the Lewyt Collection, pay close attention to Marguerite’s fine-boned facial features and the elongation of her jaw line (figs. 3, 4, 5). The mask-like angularity of the face immediately calls to mind the work of Picasso, whose 1905 portrait of Gertrude Stein, yet another strong-willed aristocratic woman of the era, shares many commonalities with the present work (figs 1, 2). Writing about Picasso’s legendary portrait, his biographer Pierre Daix observes that Picasso “reduces her face to a mask, to contrasts of volume lacking any detail of either identification or psychological expression. That summer, anticipating Matisse, Picasso was the first to take amplification and formal purification to such an extreme. And the faces of all his figure-paintings of the period display a similar reduction to essentials, to structure. Was this what struck Modigliani?” (excerpt in Secrest, op. cit., p. 179).
Modigliani’s stylization of the Baroness can clearly be linked to the works he saw at Picasso’s studio at the Bateau Lavoir (figs. 10, 11), as well as their mutual interest in African tribal art, but it is also indicative of the influence of another artistic colleague, who was present at the modelling sessions for this portrait. The first sketches for L’Amazone were made at Cité Falguière, the Montparnasse studio that he shared with Constantin Brancusi (fig. 7), and the highly sculptural details of Marguerite’s face in these drawings and the finished portrait belie the environmental influences at play whilst the artist was bringing this portrait to life (figs. 6, 8).
One of the notable features of the present work is Modigliani’s approach to rendering the potent sensual appeal of a woman who was far removed from the artist’s own social realm. The Baroness was introduced to the artist by her lover Jean Alexandre, the younger brother of Modigliani’s patron Paul Alexandre (fig. 1), who acted both as a patron and guardian figure for the wayward artist. Jean was charged with supervising Modigliani’s progress while Paul was out of town, since Modigliani was too often distracted by drink and debauchery to complete projects by his own accord. The present work, as well as a portrait of Jean, were two of the major works that occupied Modigliani during this time. We know from Jean’s letters to his brother that they were extremely difficult for him to complete. Indeed, Modigliani’s working methods during his sessions with his models were unorthodox, and his female models particularly suffered his eccentricities. His devilish good looks and bacchanalian temperament sometimes intimidated his models, and his unprofessional antics would make for a lively, if not unnerving, afternoon in the studio. One might imagine how the Baroness barely endured their sessions together, given that she ultimately lost patience with him.
Lunia Czechowska, another one of his frequent models, described how Modigliani’s joie de vivre got the better of him the first time he painted her portrait: “Gradually as the session went on and the hours passed, I was no longer afraid of him. I see him still in shirtsleeves, his hair all ruffled trying to fix my features on the canvas. From time to time he extended his hand toward a bottle of cheap table wine (vieux marc). I could see the alcohol taking effect: he was so excited he was talking to me in Italian. He painted with such violence that the painting fell over on his head has he leaned forward to see me better. I was terrified. Ashamed of having frightened me, he looked at me sweetly and began to sing Italian songs to make me forget the incident” (Pierre Sichel, A Biography of Amedeo Modigliani, New York, 1967, p. 325).
The more socially remote Marguerite was much less accommodating. The young woman grew increasingly impatient after several weeks of posing in the draughty open studio space shared with Brancusi, so sessions were relocated to the more private environs of Jean’s apartment. After more hours of work and with no end in sight, she threatened to quit and gave Modigliani an ultimatum of one week, forcing the artist to a conclusion. Jeffrey Meyers describes L’Amazone as a "masterpiece" in his biography of the artist: “Her high cheek bones narrow to her dainty chin as her wide shoulders narrow to her waist, the curve of her sunken cheek echoes the curve from her shoulder to her waist, and a dark diamond shape (echoing the shape of her torso) appears between the sharp angle of her left arm and her svelt body” (Jeffrey Meyers, Modigliani, A Life, Orlando, 2006, p. 52). The resulting image is a glamorous and provocative interpretation of female sexual potency.
“More than anything else, Modigliani was a portrait painter” the historian Werner Schmalenbach wrote in his well-known essay on the artist’s portraiture. Schmalenbach explained that Modigliani’s approach to portrait painting was one of cool distance and keen insight, a combination which enabled him to render the “likeness” of his sitter. It is this effect that he achieves with the present work and that he would later incorporate into the most successful portraits of his later years: “They are unequivocally portraits and, contrary to all the artistic precepts of the age, they possess a documentary value. Even a portrait such as that of Max Jacob, for all its formalization and stylization, is still a likeness – incontestably so, since it is actually based on a photograph. At the same time, however the sitter’s individuality is reduced to the extent that the stylization creates the effect of a mask. This brings African masks to mind, but here there is nothing alien, mysterious or demonic about the mask; it masks nothing. On the contrary, the sitter has sacrificed to the form some of his individuality, his emotions, his affective life, just as the paint, for his part, keeps emotion well away from that form. He looks at this fellow man with great coolness. The warmth of the painting lies solely in its colour. This combination of cool detachment with painterly warmth lends the painting – like many other works by the artist – its own specific “temperature” (Werner Schmalenbach, “The Portraits”, L’ange au visage grave (exhibition catalogue), Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2002-03, pp. 42-43).