Sumptuous Modigliani in Lille

The Lille show would have been a blockbuster if held in Paris or London

The best Modigliani exhibition I have ever seen is currently in Lille, North of France – more precisely in Villeneuve d’Ascq at the LaM (Lille Métropole, musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut): ‘Amedeo Modigliani, l’œil intérieur’. If it was being held in Paris, London, or another big city, the retrospective of over 100 paintings and drawings by Modigliani would be a blockbuster.  

Jeune fille brune assise, 1918, Musée national Picasso

From Venice to Montmartre & Montparnasse: School of Paris’ Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) was born in Livorno, Italy. He began to study painting at 14 and at 18 attended the Reale Istituto di Belle Arti in Venice, before settling in Montmartre in 1906, and in Montparnasse in 1909, with studio neighbour, the Romanian sculptor, Constantin Brancusi. Modigliani was affiliated with the School of Paris, referring to mainly non-French artists living and working in Paris, a flourishing centre of artistic activity, in Montmartre and then Montparnasse.


His art dealers: Paul Guillaume, Leopold Zborowski, Berthe Weill

Painter and sculptor Modigliani was supported by art dealer Paul Guillaume (1914-16), who underpaid him. This allowed fellow art dealer and poet Leopold Zborowski (1917) to sign a contract with Modigliani for at least 12 works a month, of which business man Netter could choose half (see post in French on ‘La Collection Jonas Netter Modigliani, Soutine et l’Aventure de Montparnasse‘). Late 1917, Berthe Weill provided Modigliani with the only solo exhibition in his lifetime.


LaM permanent collection complemented with notable loans

The LaM owns six paintings, eight drawings and a rare sculpture in marble by Modigliani, gathered by collector Roger Dutilleul. The LaM permanent collection forms the basis of the exhibition, enriched by remarkable loans from Paris institutions among others (Centre Pompidou and Musée de l’Orangerie).

 Cariatide, 1913-1914, MAMVP, Paris (Photo de presse Roger-Viollet); Femme assise à la robe bleue, 1918-19 Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Influence of art from Africa, Egypt and Cambodia

Besides Modigliani’s portraiture, key to his practice, the LaM displays his dialogue with cubism and non-Western sculpture. Known is the influence from the elongated faces of today’s Ivory Coast masks. Less known is the inspiration provided by Egypt and Khmer (Cambodian) art – the latter to my utmost pleasure.


“With one eye you are looking at the outside world…”

With the luxury of being able to look at many Modigliani works, I noted not all of his portrayed characters had elongated faces, even if retaining a “Modigliani style” with almond eyes for instance. More noteworthy was Modigliani’s depiction of empty pupils or even only one eye. “Why have you given me only one eye?”, demanded Modigliani’s sitter Léopold Sauvage. “With one eye you are looking at the outside world, with the other you are looking within yourself.”


‘Amedeo Modigliani, l’œil intérieur’ runs until June 5, 2016 at the LaM – well worth the trip to Lille/Villeneuve d’Ascq.

  Nu assis, 1917, Musée royal des beaux-arts d’Anvers 


Sources/Learn more:

African Influences in Modern Art:

School of Paris:

Modigliani’s biography:

Modigliani’s Standing nude:



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