Amedeo Modigliani 'Columbine in Tutu Holding Fan' November 1908

Commentary by Richard Nathanson

Modigliani loved the theatre, wrote Paul Alexandre, which presents life in a way that blends dream and reality.  At the theatre it seemed to us that we were living through a waking dream. A whole series of his drawings is inspired by the theatre. In the old ‘Gaîté-Rochechouart’, because of mirrors placed on the side walls, spectators in certain seats [which we always chose] saw the spirited and thrilling image of Miss Lawler. At other times, the stage would seem to be a brilliant rectangle at the end of a long corridor with its four walls blazing with colourful humanity.’

The Unknown Modigliani by Noël Alexandre

‘The old ‘Gaite-Rochechouart’ in Montmartre, one of their favourite theatres, was where  Modigliani most probably saw this figure. According to Paul Alexandre he only made the briefest of notes when watching a performance. But ‘like a camera’ would vividly remember every detail and then draw it afterwards, often at night, when he returned to his room. He would have carefully selected this drawing before dedicating it to Paul Alexandre as a souvenir of their pleasurable theatre going.  

This swiftly executed, impressively assured drawing, is one of five drawings and watercolours of Columbine reproduced in The Unknown Modigliani. The particular expression and twisting body suggest its possible depiction of Columbine’s rejecting Pierrot for Harlequin. Was Modigliani also thinking of Toulouse Lautrec’s poster below with its stockinged legs, movement and expression of the dancer closest to us?