Modigliani was born in Livorno into a Jewish family, but he lived and worked for the majority of his life in Paris. His mother encouraged his artistic tendencies. It was she who found an apprenticeship for him with a master painter in Livorno and who took him to Florence to view master paintings at the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi Galleries to fuel his creative fires. He later received additional training at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence and then at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice.
It was during this period that he began his life-long infatuation with life drawing, nudes and portrait paintings, developing his signature modern style characterized by the elongation of faces and figures. In addition, during these formative years he was also influenced by the Macchiaioli but later rejected their style of painting, being more drawn to the work of Toulouse Lautrec and later by the art of Cezanne. During his lifetime his style was not well received, but later it made him quite famous.
Modigliani suffered from health problems all his life, pleurisy, typhoid fever and tuberculosis that would later claim his life. He dabbled with hashish and drugs and was a heavy drinker. Modigliani’s use of drink and drugs intensified in 1914 onward perhaps caused by the painful symptoms of his worsening tuberculosis. He had numerous love affairs, but it was a young art student named Jeanne Hétbuterne with whom he ended his final days.
Together they had a daughter and planned to marry in 1919 after the birth of the child. But plans were shattered when Modigliani’s health began to rapidly deteriorate. Modigliani died on January 24, 1920 in the arms of his beloved Jeanne who was at the time pregnant with their second child. Tragically the day after his death Jeanne threw herself out of a fifth-floor window killing herself and her unborn child.
It is tragic that an artist’s life is cut short at the age of 35. One can only image what Modigliani might have created had he lived longer. But at least we can enjoy the legacy he left behind. In Modigliani’s words: Your only duty is to save your own dreams.