Amedeo Modigliani
(Livorno, 1884-1920, Paris)
Reclining Nude, 1916
Oil on canvas, 65.5 x 87 cm
Signed upper right: Modigliani

In augmenting his collection with early twentieth century masterpieces, Emil Bührle continued his strategy of tracing the path of development followed by the French art of the time – whereby the term 'French' in no way signified narrow-minded nationalism. Art was 'French' as long as it had been created in Paris, or at least somewhere in France. The painters themselves could be natives of Russia like Marc Chagall, Spain like Pablo Picasso, or Italy like Amedeo Modigliani – the crucial thing was that they had developed their language of form and earned their success in the creative environment of Paris. The Reclining Nude, which you see here, is by an artist who deliberately pursued his career within the modern Paris art scene. Modigliani basically concentrated on two genres: portraits and female nudes. He mainly painted portraits of friends and acquaintances who helped him to make progress, such as the art dealers Leopold Zborowski and Paul Guillaume. In his nudes, Modigliani returned to an age-old, established motif, giving it a modern appearance by using blocks of colour with a matt texture. This economy of means is evident in the modelling of the nude in the Bührle Collection, as is the avoidance of an all-too-naturalistic precision. In making the right eye completely black, Modigliani has picked up a motif that was familiar to him from portraits by Cézanne. As you may recall from earlier in this tour, Cézanne often gave the faces of his models a mask-like stiffness by treating the eyes as dark cavities. The striped towel underneath the model here, however, is given an atypically picturesque treatment. After his early death in 1920, Modigliani soon came to epitomise the impoverished, but free, artist's existence in the French capital, which was successfully marketed as the 'École de Paris'.