Modigliani relocated to Paris in January 1906 and immersed himself in the city’s vibrant art scene, renting a studio in the avant-garde community of Montmartre. Here he met a number of trailblazing artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, André Derain, Juan Gris, Chaïm Soutine, Blaise Cendrars and Guillaume Apollinaire. Though surrounded by these revolutionary figures, Modigliani remained independent from the prevailing movements of the period, instead continuing along his own unique artistic path.
From 1909 to 1914, Modigliani concentrated on sculptural projects. He planned his works carefully, often drafting countless drawings and sketches in gouache before taking his hammer to a block of stone. The resulting series of elegant sculptures of female heads and caryatids were carved primarily using limestone and sandstone. They combined a modern approach to material with a classical timelessness, as seen in works such as Tête (1910–12), which sold at Christie’s Paris in 2010 for €43,185,000. However, the dust and physical exertion required to carve directly into stone took a toll on the artist’s health, and Modigliani was forced to abandon his sculptural practice shortly before the outbreak of World War I.
He channelled his creativity into painting instead, producing over 250 canvases between 1913 and 1920. He developed a distinctive approach to portraiture during these years, focusing on a rich cast of characters that included his closest friends, patrons, supporters and loved ones. Using bold, elongated contours, Modigliani reduced his subjects to a highly stylised language of simplified forms that recalled the extreme refinement of his sculpted heads.
Around 1915, he met the Polish émigré Léopold Zborowski, who quickly became his close companion, patron and dealer. It was Zborowski who provided the funds to hire models and buy materials for Modigliani’s great series of large female nudes, which would become the most celebrated pictures of the artist’s career. Begun in 1917, this concentrated group of 30 or so paintings remain a bold artistic statement, each one combining a rich sensuality and idealised beauty, with a distinct psychological depth. In 2015, a work from this series Nu couché (Reclining Nude) set an auction record for a work by Modigliani, selling at Christie’s New York for $170,404,992.
In May 1919, Modigliani’s health deteriorated. He died on 24 January 1920 from tubercular meningitis, at the age of 35, and was buried at Père Lachaise cemetery three days later. In the immediate aftermath of his death, the demand for Modigliani’s work increased dramatically. Stories of his artistic genius and troubled life cemented his reputation as a legendary figure within the history of 20th century art.