L’Amazone by Amedeo Modigliani

“What I am seeking is not the real and not the unreal but rather the unconscious, the mystery of the instinctive in the human race.”

An erotically charged early masterpiece by Amedeo Modigliani is definitely not just another portrait of an aristocratic young lady. The model for the graceful amazon was Baroness Marguerite de Hasse de Villers. Dressed in a riding habit and captured in an impossibly refined posture Marguerite is literally looking down at us. Her frown gives away a temperament of a powerful woman as well as the tension between her and young Modigliani.

L’Amazone was commissioned by Marguerite’s boyfriend – Paul Alexandre, Modigliani’s doctor and patron. Modigliani was only 25 and relatively unknown when he met Paul Alexandre who came to recognize his talent early on. Modigliani painted several portraits of Paul Alexandre: at the beginning of his career and later – in his signature style. The challenge for all of Modigliani’s models was his brusque personality and drinking habit. Progress on the portrait of Marguerite was challenging for Modigliani himself from the beginning. He repeatedly reworked it, until Marguerite gave him an ultimatum to finish the portrait in one week or she leaves without it. Modigliani had not fully developed yet his recognizable elongated rendering of faces, but he was steadily moving in that direction. Take note of the highly sculptural details of the model’s face: an elongated jaw, wide cheekbones actively narrowing towards the chin, pointed ear and tightly pursed lips – all signaling her impatience. Modigliani perfectly balanced the composition by contrasting sharp angles of Marguerite’s face to the smooth lines of her body and clothes.

When Marguerite finally saw the portrait she didn’t recognize herself and was dissatisfied, but Paul Alexandre kept the painting for his own collection as he saw great potential in Modigliani’s avant-garde approach.

The painting has been in the same private collection since 1953 when in May 2013 L’Amazone sold at Sotheby’s for some $26 million.

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