Amedeo Modigliani, 'Study for The Standing Nude Sculpture' c.1911

An Essay by Richard Nathanson

This drawing is one of the two frontal studies reproduced in the Noël Alexandre’s monograph, which are closest to Modigliani’s only full length [approximately 1.62 metres high] standing stone sculpture in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra [reproduced below].

In drawing the black strokes so richly and powerfully around the figure, in contrast to its more delicately delineated features, it seems as though Modigliani is carving the already visualised complete figure with his crayon, willing it to emerge from the space within.

The sculpture is Modigliani’s supreme monument to the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. It celebrates her statuesque beauty and elongated, mysteriously beautiful head with its mass of hair – eulogised also in his fifteen limestone heads and numerous drawings of her.

Anna Akhmatova [1889-1966] is considered, with Boris Pasternak and Osip Mandelstam, the greatest Russian poet of the twentieth century. She met Modigliani in 1910 during her first visit to Paris, on honeymoon with her husband. They corresponded throughout the winter; and she returned alone in early 1911 when they became very close.

Akhmatova’s poetic genius; charismatic beauty and tall, sensual body struck an immediate, seismic chord with Modigliani; and influenced the course of his art at a critical moment in his development.

Venus de Milo    Egyptian       Roman               Cycladic           Africa*      

In both the National Gallery of Australia sculpture and this drawing is the elemental simplicity, mysterious stillness and quiet power of Cycladic figures, exemplified in the one above. Their continuing spell, some four thousand years after their creation, would have profoundly moved and inspired Modigliani. 

Present also is the mesmerising aura, from the grave, of ancient Egyptian goddesses and princesses. The majestic purity of Greek sculpture. And nobility of Roman art. Modigliani would, in Italy and Paris, have avidly studied each of the above three pieces.

Evident in the Baule Female Spirit figure is the powerful symbolic influence of African art.

As Modigliani’s magnificent, heroically carved and loving tribute to Akhmatova testifies his obsessive quest to portray, in the most sublime, beautiful and inwardly powerful way he was able The mystery of what is instinctive in the human race, crystallised and found unique artistic expression through Akhmatova’s poignant beauty, sensual, elongated form and mystical presence.

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