Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu couché is one of the great, undisputed facts of his extraordinary life and tragically brief, but brilliant, artistic career. It is one of the defining masterpieces of his work: a seamless fusion of classical idealism, sensual realism and modernist invention. It is a work that reaches the lofty heights of Modigliani’s long-held ambition to create a sublime sculptural icon in the form of a woman – what he called a ‘column of tenderness’ – while acknowledging the gritty reality of his bohemian life as an impoverished émigré eking out an existence in a poor district of Paris.
Realistic enough to seduce, yet stylized to the point that it stands as an idealized vision, Nu couché is no portrait, but rather a great artist’s paean to idea of the beauty of life itself. It is one of the finest and most admired of an extraordinary series of joyous, sensual, erotic and life-affirming nudes. Modigliani painted Nu Couché in an intense spate of creativity from the winter of 1917 onwards. It was, by all accounts, the product of several hours of intense, feverish work painting ‘orgasmically’, according to the painter Tsuguharu Foujita, in a small, poorly furnished room, alone with his model, two chairs, a couch and a bottle of brandy during what was probably the worst year of the Great War. It is a defiant life-affirming ‘yes-saying’ to life made directly in the face of great personal adversity during one of the darkest and most traumatic periods of the 20th century.