Modigliani review – you think you know him? Turns out you do…

By Laura Cumming

Tate Modern, London
One hundred portraits by the tormented Italian painter grace this beautiful but almost totally unsurprising show in which each painting begins to look more and more like the next

A tubercular alcoholic, addicted to women, hash and ether, unrecognised, impoverished and dead at 35 with the last painting still wet on the canvas: Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) is a Romantic throwback in 20th-century art. Even his nickname, Modi, is a pun on the peintre maudit, the accursed painter, a phrase coined half a century before he was born. He starts as an outsider, a Jew in Catholic France, an Italian immigrant reciting Dante in Montmartre, and ends as a rachitic wreck still trying to make a franc from his enchanting portraits of Parisians. How could such a tormented life produce such serene work?

For that is the atmosphere of Tate Modern's exemplary survey of Modigliani's short-lived career. The show is beautiful, endearing, evenly elegant: one hundred portraits, including some of his best, painted over the 14 years that Modigliani lived in Paris. You may think you know him – the long, oval faces and almond eyes, the palette of pink, blue and chestnut, the tubular necks and curvilinear limbs, all that grace and sorrow compounded by the artist's own tragic existence. And it turns out that you do.

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