Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)

Le violoncelliste

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)
Le violoncelliste
signed 'Modigliani' (lower right)
oil on canvas
51 5/8 x 31 7/8 in. (131 x 81cm.)
Painted in 1909
Dr. Paul Alexandre, Paris, and thence by descent to his children, Paris
Acquired from the above circa 1980 by Galerie Jean-Francois Gobbi, Paris
Acquired from the above by Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva
Acquired from the above by the father of the present owners in 1985
G. Waldemar, 'Trente Ans d'Art Indpendant', L'Amour de l'Art, Paris, March 1926, p. 91 (illustrated).
A. Pfannstiel, Modigliani, Paris 1929 (preparatory study illustrated in colour p. 17); the present work p. 3 of the catalogue prsum.
ed. G. Scheiwiller, Amedeo Modigliani-Selbstzeugnisse, Photos, Zeichnungen, Zurich 1958, p. 24.
A. Pfannstiel, Modigliani et son oeuvre, Paris 1956, no. 15.
A. C. Roy, Modigliani, Geneva 1958, p. 28 (illustrated in colour).
A. Ceroni, Amedeo Modigliani, Milan 1958, no. 19 (illustrated).
J. Modigliani, Modigliani sans lgende, Paris 1961, no. 23.
A. Ceroni, I dipinti di Modigliani, Milan 1970, no. 23 (illustrated).
J. Lanthemann, Modigliani 1884-1920, catalogue raisonn, sa vie,
son oeuvre complte, son art
, Barcelona 1970, no. 36 (illustrated p. 169).
A. Ceroni & F. Cachin, Modigliani, toute l'oeuvre peinte de
, Paris 1972, no. 23 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., Lige, Muse Saint-Georges, October-December 1980, Modigliani, Lige 1980, p. 31 (illustrated).
J. Modigliani, Racconta Modigliani, Livourne 1984, no. 23 (illustrated p. 70).
C. Roy, Modigliani, Paris 1985, p. 24 (illustrated).
T. Castieau-Barrielle, La vie et l'oeuvre de Amedeo Modigliani, Paris 1987, p. 49 (illustrated).
C. Parisot, Modigliani, catalogue raisonn, vol. II, Livourne 1991, no. 9/1909 (illustrated p. 40).
Paris, Grand Palais, Salon des Artistes Indpendants, 1910, no. 3686.
Paris, Grand Palais, Salon des Artistes Indpendants, Trente ans d'Art Indpendant, February-March 1926, no. 3098.
Tokyo, National Museum, Modigliani, July-November 1985, no. 10 (illustrated in colour).
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Italian Art in the 20th Century, January-April 1989, no. 60 (illustrated in colour).
Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Amedeo Modigliani, January-April 1991, no. 6. This exhibition later travelled to Zurich, Kunsthaus, April-July 1991 (illustrated in colour).

Lot Essay

To be included in the forthcoming Modigliani catalogue raisonn being prepared by Marc Restellini in conjunction with Wildenstein Institute.

Executed in 1909, Le violoncelliste is the finest achievement of Modigliani's early career. Exquisitely composed, it represents the culmination of a period in Modigliani's art that was characterised by the influence of Czanne.

In the present work, Modigliani incorporates the lessons that he has learned from Czanne and ultimately transcends them by resolving Czanne's tonal harmonies and formal relationships into a more fluid and deliberately sculptural composition. When exhibited at the Salon des Indpendants in 1910, Le violoncelliste was famously acclaimed by Modigliani's friend and patron Dr. Paul Alexandre as being "better than Czanne."

In addition to being Modigliani's ultimate statement on Czanne, Le violoncelliste also marks the dawning in Modigliani's art of the artist's lifelong fascination with sculpture and in particular the influence of Brancusi. On his arrival in Paris in 1906, Modigliani had introduced himself around town as primarily a sculptor and shortly before he began work on Le violoncelliste in 1909, he had asked Dr. Paul Alexandre to introduce him to the famous Romanian sculptor. A long-time admirer of Brancusi's work, over the ensuing months the Romanian became both a significant influence on Modigliani's work and a close friend and substitute father-figure for the young Italian artist.

Brancusi was a shy man who seldom agreed to be photographed or painted, yet on the reverse of the oil study for Le violoncelliste there appears a rare portrait of Brancusi by Modigliani that remained unfinished. Many of the features of this portrait resemble those of Le violoncelliste and indeed it has been suggested that it is also a portrait of Brancusi, who though not known to have played the cello was a keen violinist and played regularly with the celebrated naive painter, Henri 'Le Douanier' Rousseau. The grounds for this identification is, however, insubstantial. Despite the facial resemblance, the slender body and elongated forms of the figure in the painting are inconsistent with Brancusi's more robust figure.

The influence of Brancusi's elegant sculptural simplification of form on Modigliani during this period is nevertheless undeniable and can be most clearly witnessed in the smooth rounded and somewhat exaggerated forms of the cellist's features and in the carefully orchestrated spatial depth of the compositon. Le violoncelliste was painted concurrently with a number of very sculptural paintings and drawings which, taking their inspiration from Brancusi and Cubism, attempt to convey three-dimensional form in two dimensions by means of highly stylised distortion.

Although Le violoncelliste is executed very much in the Czanne-influenced style of his early work, one can clearly observe in the finished painting the first signs of Modigliani's elegant elongation as a means of conveying spatial and pictorial harmony. The smooth-curved and seemingly boneless right arm of the cellist, which loops through the left of the picture and leads to the figure's stick-like fingers, is the most noticeable example of this emerging style. Similarly the elongation of the cellist's head in a manner similar to that of his later stone sculptures, the smoothing of the cellist's features to the point of almost linear clarity and the delicate colouring of the work throughout, make Le violoncelliste not only Modigliani's earliest masterpiece but also the first of his paintings to clearly display the direction and character of the artist's later work.


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