Amedeo Modigliani 'Portrait of Maud Abrantès' 1908

An Essay by Richard Nathanson

The Unknown Modigliani includes Paul Alexandre's recollection of his first meeting with Modigliani and Maud Abrantès:

It was Doucet [a friend] who first bought him to the Delta [the building Alexandre rented for gatherings with his friends]. I think it was in November or December 1907. Doucet had met him at the 'Lapin Agile' which in those days was only frequented by poor people, poets and artists. Modigliani told Doucet that he had been thrown out of the small studio he had occupied and that he did not know where to go. He was earning nothing; he had exhausted the few resources he had bought from Italy and found himself penniless. Doucet offered to bring him to the Delta where he could stay, if he wanted, and keep his belongings. This was how my friendship with Modigliani began. I was twenty-six years old, Modigliani was twenty-three. Modigliani arrived accompanied by a supremely elegant woman, Maud Abrantès, and followed by a car which contained, among other things, 'The Jewess' [which would be his first painting to be exhibited], his sketchbooks, his books  and a few old clothes. There was nothing particularly unusual about someone arriving like that, but he soon became the dominant personality in the group. For the first time in his life he sold a few canvases and gave away a few drawings. He chose to take lodgings in a hotel in the Rue Caulaincourt, but he came back every day to see me at the Delta as did Maud Abrantès, who enjoyed herself enormously there and who drew too, when she felt like it. Modigliani did several drawings of her and a painting which is on the back of a study I own, in the pose of the model for 'The Jewess'. But a year later, Maud Abrantès, who was pregnant, set off for America and we never saw her again.

Maud Abrantès was Modigliani's mistress and, according to Paul Alexandre, also married to an art dealer. Her departure for America remains a mystery. Her postcard to Paul Alexandre expresses her happiness with Modigliani but hints at an unhappy marriage that perhaps explains this haunting, powerful portrait. Modigliani drew her heavily pregnant [see drawing below].

The above postcard was sent by Maud Abrantès to Paul Alexandre at 7 Rue du Delta on 28th November 1908, the day before she arrived in New York:

We arrive tomorrow. Are you still reading Mallarmé? I can't tell you how much I miss all those charming evenings we all spent together around your warm fire. Oh, what a wonderful time! Fondest memories from Maud Abrantès.

The 'study I own' to which Paul Alexandre refers is 'Nude in a Hat' [below] on the back of which he painted the reproduced portrait of Maud Abrantès. Interestingly, the present portrait has something of the mouth and broad nose of the 'The Jewess' whose pose Paul Alexandre likened to that of 'Nude in a Hat'. 


Nude in a Hat [recto] 1908                                    Maud Abrantès [verso] 1908  


The Jewess 1908                                                              Maud Abrantes  1908