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

Caryatide

Details
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)
Caryatide
with the inscription 'Modigliani' (lower left)
gouache, watercolour and blue wax crayon on paper
21 7/8 x 17 1/2 in. (55.6 x 44.4 cm.)
Provenance
Paul Guillaume, Paris.
Joseph Brummer, New York.
Mrs G. W. Fleming, New York, acquired from the above in November 1922, and thence by descent to the present owner.
Exhibited
New York, Joseph Brummer, Works by Artists of Modern French School, November - December 1922, no. 14.
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Jessica Brook
Jessica Brook

Lot Essay

The provenance of Caryatide
Joseph Brummer moved to New York in 1914, and prior to that lived close to Modigliani in Paris. The common friend of Brummer and Modigliani, who consigned or sold the Caryatide to Brummer, as seen by a stamp on the reverse of the work, was the dealer Paul Guillaume. Brummer and Guillaume had a close working relationship for many years, and Brummer became Guillaume’s partner in New York. Guillaume in turn represented Modigliani from around 1916 until Modigliani’s death in 1920. Brummer’s November – December 1922 exhibition Works by Artists of Modern French School, included four works by Modigliani alongside works by Dérain, Utrillo, Pascin and Laurencin. The medium of the present lot, and the number ‘14’ annotated on the Paul Guillaume stamp, identify Caryatide as no. 14 in the exhibition - Dessin avec Aquarelle et Crayon.

Six days after the exhibition opened, on 10 November 1922, confirmed by an address card from the Brummer Gallery Archive held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wealthy art collector and New York socialite Mrs G.W. Fleming, whose art collection centred on School of Paris works, bought Caryatide for $70, and Caryatide has remained in her family ever since, passing down through three generations. Mrs Fleming's acquisition of Caryatide in 1922 places it as one of the earliest purchases of a Modigliani work in the United States.

Modigliani's Caryatides
Until circa 1914, Amedeo Modigliani focussed his talents on sculpture, rather than painting. In total, he created around two dozen sculptures on a narrow range of themes: idol-like heads, a kneeling caryatide and a single standing figure. However a number of watercolours and drawings attest to the intensity of Modigliani’s preoccupation with sculptural form during this period, and his studies of caryatids, such as the present work, are among the most formally adventurous of his works in any medium.

This focus is clear from the forms that comprise the idealised female figure in this work: the stylised arcs of her body shape and in particular the outline of her head and arms have a sculptural feel. The composition itself clearly aligns this work to the sculptures of caryatids - female supporting figures used in architecture, for instance in the Erechtheion on the Acropolis in Athens - that Modigliani intended to create. These were going to be the supporters, the ‘colonnes de tendresse’ (‘columns of tenderness’) as he reportedly named them, for a 'Temple de la Volupté', a place of worship dedicated to earthly beauty and sensual pleasures.

Modigliani developed the idea for such a Temple during his time working in the studio of the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. There, he had developed an increasing fascination with direct carving, and with a more direct visual means of expression. However due to the tuberculosis he had earlier contracted, Modigliani found that he was unable to endure the physical trial of direct sculpting, and so few plastic works remain from that period. His drawings such as Caryatide are thus the eloquent echo of the artist's never-completed dream.

Modigliani was one of the first artists working in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century to embrace the influence of so-called 'tribal' art. In Caryatide, the influence of Khmer and Cambodian sculpture can be seen, with the posture of a dancing female figure echoed, and also through the headdress and the large, heavily-emphasised eyes in the face. This is clearly not a portrait, but instead an idealised image captured as though performing in some hieratic ritual, dancing to the rhythm of life. Modigliani had been exposed to tribal art through several of his friends and acquaintances in Montparnasse, not least Brummer, a Hungarian art dealer who was the artist's near-neighbour in the Cité Falguière. Modigliani's use of ancient and exotic precedents during this time would come to influence the nudes and portraits that he would create from 1914 onwards, when he abandoned sculpture and returned to painting. He channelled their energy and their direct means of expression into his own highly modern works such as Caryatide, which is filled with supine, sensual forms that highlight the curvaceous body of this figure, which is both a timeless evocation of female beauty and a modern image of sensual sublimation.

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