‘We others... we have different rights from normal people, for we have different needs which place us above – this must be said and believed – their morality. It is our duty never to be consumed by commercial fire. Your real duty is to save your dream… The man who cannot draw from his own energy new desires, and might almost say, new individuals, destined always to hack down whatever is old and rotten in order to take its strength for himself, such a person is no man, he is a bourgeois, a grocer, call him what you will… You must accustom yourself to placing your aesthetic needs before your duty to your fellow man’ (Amedeo Modigliani, ‘Letter to O. Ghiglia’, quoted in Modigliani: The Melancholy Angel, exh. cat., Musée Luxembourg, 2002, p. 20).
One of Amedeo Modigliani’s earliest self-portraits, Autoportrait is an extensively worked charcoal drawing made by the young artist while studying art under the tutelage of Professor Guglielmo Micheli at the school of art in his home town of Livorno.
An accomplished work, the drawing follows in the style taught by Professor Micheli who engrained in his students a knowledge of all the fundamentals of painting beginning with charcoal drawing, still-life, watercolour, oil painting and life-study from the figure. Modigliani, during this nascent stage of his artistic career was, along with his best-friend Oscar Ghiglia, the star pupil of the class. As his biographer Pierre Sichel has recorded of the young Jewish Italian artist at this time: ‘Good–looking , self-possessed, well-mannered, gentle, and impeccably dressed, Dedo [Modigliani] was a little too wise for his age… he easily held is own among his friends, almost all of whom were older than himself. He had a reputation as a lady-killer…He praised the Pre-Raphaelites, was mad about Baudelaire…and he quoted so enthusiastically from Nietzsche… that Professor Micheli jokingly referred to him in class as “the superman”’ (Pierre Sichel, Modigliani, A Biography, London, 1967, p. 47).