Amedeo Modigliani was born in Livorno, Italy, to a middle-class, educated and cultivated family of Sephardic Italian Jews on July 12, 1884. The Modiglianis, his mother recalled, tall, healthy, were "more inclined to enjoy life than to strain their intellects.... The Garsins [his mother's family]... showed very differeot physical and intellectual traits:...dark, with very alert, expressive, changeable faces. There had been a few cases of tuberculosis...and some psychological disorders...."
There were three older children: Emanuele, who became a prominent politician, a member of the national legislature, Margherita and Umberto. There had been some financial setbacks and the household also contained, from the mother's side of the family, two auots, an uncle and grandfather Isaac Garsin, a cultivated man who spoke four languages and who was to become the young Modigliani's companion and mentor.
It was an intellectual household. Modigliani was introduced to Dante, Leopardi, Petrarch. He learned large sections of Baudelaire by heart. Later he was to saturate himself in the decadeot verse of Lautreamont's "Les Chaots de Maldoror." Modigliani's mother, Eugenia, fluent in French, opened a school for young girls. Modigliani, who was not to enter formal school until he was 10, atteoded her school; he was much at home and very well received by the studeot body.
Amedeo, a moody, hot-tempered youngster, wasn't much interested in regular school, and in his early teens he entered a local art academy. For two years, wrote Eugenia Modigliani, he worked at his art and hung around with a group of studeots who "smoked too many cigarettes and were given premature initiation by willing chambermaids."
He had come to Paris from Livorno, Italy, a blazing young trained artist of undeniable taleot and iridesceot personality. He quickly became known in a city that was bursting with the work of remarkable painters, sculptors, poets, writers and composers.
In painting and sculpture in those dizzying times, Picasso and Braque were already engaged in making early Cubist masterpieces. Matisse, the only artist who could make Picasso nervous, had already stunned the art world with Fauvist bombshells. Brancusi, the Romanian peasant who produced some of the world's most sophisticated and direct expressions of three-dimensional structure, was just beginning. The sculptor Jacques Lipchitz was there, and Jacob Epstein came from England to look around. Monet, Renoir, Rodin and Degas, among the elder generation of masters, were alive still and at work.
Although well known and highly regarded by many of them, over time Modigliani came to be seen as a sort of mendicant, a peddler in the streets of his wares, which could be had, when anyone wanted them, for a few dollars for a painting and pennies for a drawing. He was generous too, if he liked you, in handing out his drawings, which he accomplished with mercurial speed, for no charge at all.
His star began to rise almost as he was lowered into the grave. Collectors, dealers, critics, tradesmen who had taken paintings for food and clothing suddenly remembered what had happened after Van Gogh's death. They were well aware of the prices being paid for the work of the Impressionists, who had gone hungry until they caught on not that many years before.
He died at the age of 35, but during his short life he produced paintings, sculptures and drawings that were to make him one of the most popular artists of the 20th century. The founder of no school, an artist of worldwide prominence, he has had no discernible followers, other than an entire school of counterfeiters of his work. There are many more "Modiglianis"--drawings and paintings--in the world today than there were while he lived.