‘His drawing was a silent conversation, a dialogue between his lines and ours…Resemblance is actually nothing more than a pretext that allows the painter to confirm the picture that is in his mind. And by that one does not mean an actual, physical picture, but the mystery of one's own genius’ (J. Cocteau, quoted in D. Krystof, Amedeo Modigliani: The Poetry of Seeing, Cologne 2000, p. 54).
Amadeo Modigliani’s Nu debout de profil, is an elegant example of the artist’s sensuous practice. The drawing is filled with poise, accentuated by the simplicity of the thick charcoal lines and the sinuous, stylised arcs and curves of the female’s body. Drawing was a constant field of experimentation for Modigliani and underlies many of his pictorial and sculptural achievements. Drawn between 1910-1911, the present work was created in the only five year period that Modigliani devoted himself to sculpture. Providing an intimate insight into Modigliani’s rare sculptural output, Nu debout de profil was notably created as a study for the artist’s only surviving free-standing, full-length sculptural figure; the monumental and iconic sculpture Standing Nude, 1912 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra).
Modigliani was one of the first artists working in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century to take inspiration from interest in non-Western, pre-historic art objects. Presenting itself as an anthology of archaic motifs, Nu debout de profil testifies to Modigliani’s enthusiasm for the rigour, stylisation and spirituality he found in African, Ancient Greek and Egyptian art and objects. With its elegant and geometric features, the drawing’s composition could be considered to align itself with the sculptures of caryatids – ancient Greek female sculptural figures serving as architectural support – that Modigliani intended to create as 'Columns of Tenderness' for his unrealised primordial 'Temple of Beauty'. Yet the bold, rhythmic contours align Nu debout de profil perhaps more closely with African wooden sculpture, its long nose and heavy lidded eyes being reminiscent of Baulé masks from the Ivory Coast. At the same time, the figure’s side profile, the head’s extreme elongation, hatchet chin and elaborate coiffure belies Modigliani’s fascination with Egyptian art. As Paul Alexandre articulates, ‘In his drawings, there is invention, simplification and purification of form... Modigliani had reconstructed the lines of the human face in his own way by fitting them into primitive patterns. He enjoyed any attempt to simplify line and was interested in it for his personal development' (P. Alexandre, quoted in M. Restellini (ed.), Modigliani, The Melancholy Angel, exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2002, p. 144).