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When Modigliani died in Paris in 1920, at the age of thirty-five, he became the

standard-bearer for the myth of the bohemian artist the unappreciated "artist-ge
nius" consoled by wine and drugs. This celebrated myth is based on details of th
e artist's colorful life. As captivating as such biography may be, it does littl
e to further our understanding of the man or his art. The story of Modigliani's
life has eclipsed his work, severing it from the ideas and cultural traditions t
hat might otherwise reveal its many meanings. Such mythmaking has made one of th
e best-known early modernist artists one of the most misunderstood.
The Jewish Museum presents the first major exhibition of Italian painter and scu
lptor Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) in New York since his 1951 retrospective at
The Museum of Modern Art. An anomaly among the many foreign Jewish artists who l
ived in Paris during the early 1900s, Modigliani remained independent of any mov
ement or style, and was known primarily for his reclining nudes and portraits wi
th elegantly elongated features. Modigliani: Beyond the Myth shows the full rang
e of the artist's oeuvre painting, drawing and sculpture in an effort to reevalu
ate his position within the development of twentieth-century European modernism.
Unlike previous retrospectives, Modigliani: Beyond the Myth also explores the ar
tist's heritage as an Italian Sephardic Jew, and how it contributed to the devel
opment of a unique style that melded formalist innovation with a variety of hist
orical models from Egyptian and classical to African. More than 100 of Modiglian
i's works from collections in the United States, Europe, South America and Austr
alia are featured in this retrospective.

Amedeo Modigliani painted people. In many ways this concise statement sums up th
e artist s entire output during his short career in Paris in the first two decades
of the twentieth century. No other modern artist concentrated so absolutely on
the representation of people. Moreover, in a period when avant-garde art was exp
erimenting with the breakdown of forms, Modigliani steadfastly retained their in
tegrity. Always individual and idiosyncratic, he drew on a variety of sources Re
naissance to Rococo painting, the art of Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne and Brancusi, a
ncient Greek, African and Asian sculpture to create his own highly original and
modern signature style.
Modigliani s life story, as told by his contemporaries and biographers since his p
remature death at the age of 35 in 1920, has tended to overshadow his achievemen
t as an artist. Born into a cultivated Sephardic Jewish family from Livorno in T
uscany, Modigliani studied in his native town and in Florence and Venice, before
moving to Paris in 1906. The riveting story of the handsome and dissolute young
bohemian s life in the French capital, brought to an end by a combination of ill
health, alcohol consumption and drug abuse, has acquired legendary status. His r
estlessness was not, however, reflected in his art, which, if sometimes poignant
, has none of the nervous expressionistic energy of that of many of his contempo
raries. Apart from a handful of landscapes painted in the south of France in 191
8, Modigliani s paintings are restricted to portraits and nudes, most of which wer
e painted in the last six years of his career, between 1913 and 1919.
Modigliani s friend, the sculptor Jacob Epstein, said: The legend of the debauched
artist is just a legend. What legend gives us is an implausible caricature of a
man, a painter who left behind only a body of legends. Amedeo Modigliani left be
hind a life s work in art.

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