Rare Modigliani watercolour to be offered at Bonhams

A beautiful watercolour executed in 1913 by the renowned Italian artist, Amedeo Modigliani (Italian, 1884-1920) will be sold in the Impressionist sale at Bonhams in New Bond Street on Monday 27 June 2007.

Set to fetch £350,000 – £450,000, the work titled *Cariatide is produced in watercolour and pencil heightened with white on paper laid down on card.

Director of Paintings, Caroline Oliphant comments, “Bonhams is very pleased to be offering Cariatide 1913 in our June sale – this is an exceptionally lovely work. Modigliani produced numerous drawings, but a fully-worked watercolour is much rarer to see. It presents an opportunity for collectors to obtain a wonderful example of a classic Modigliani subject. ”

Modigliani (1884-1920) was born into a Jewish family in the Italian port town of Livorno. Unhealthy as a child, he ceased his formal schooling in 1898 and began to study art instead. The theme of the caryatid dominated Modigliani’s works in the years between 1910 and 1914. He believed he was first and foremost a sculptor, but failing health forced him to abandon this physically demanding medium in favour of painting and drawing after 1913 – the year this watercolour was made. Nonetheless sculpture remained a fundamental preoccupation with him and his drawings and paintings after 1913 continue to show his obsession with monumental figures and sculptural forms.

In 1909, Modigliani met Constantin Brancusi through his doctor, the collector Paul Alexandre, and he learned much about stone carving techniques from the Hungarian. He took a studio next door to Brancusi at 54 rue de Montparnasse, and there was considerable cross-fertilization of ideas between the two. Like Brancusi and others in their artistic milieu – Marcoussis, Derain and Vlaminck – Modigliani was strongly influenced by the primitive forms of African sculptures and masks which he would have seen in the museums of Paris and in the collections of his acquaintances. So dominant an influence had African sculpture become in Paris, that in 1916, the dealer Paul Guillaume organised an exhibition (in which Modigliani also participated) showing African sculpture alongside works by European artists of the day. Modigliani’s numerous drawings from this period show the influence of the simplified, pared-down features of African sculpture with its exaggerated limbs, geometric facial features and stylised hair.

Modigliani was a prolific draughtsman; he had studied drawing at the Accademia in Florence and saw his drawings – which he often exhibited – as an end in themselves, saying ‘The art of drawing should not be allowed to die, it would mean the death of art itself’. Consequently his work, even when in oil or watercolour is underpinned by draughtsmanship which shows efficient, economical use of line and a deep understanding of form and design. The drawings and watercolours of caryatids became the chief expression of Modigliani’s unrealised sculptural aspirations, as well as reflecting his interest in non-European art.

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