By Thomas P. Campbell, Director
Distributed by Yale University Press 2012
An amateur art admirer wanders through a museum, takes a picture of a work of art, and wonders if the choice of pictures is as much about the observer as the observed.
With that imprimatur, just walking by “Reclining Nude” by Amedeo Modigliani is unlikely. It demands attention; i.e. it evokes sensuality with its languid aura, and wisps of tangled hair. Though the face is like a mask, it is emotive. Curiously, hands and feet are outside the picture frame, a characteristic of Modigliani’ nudes that escapes an amateur’s understanding. It cannot be because of the artist’s ability. It means something to the painter, the observer, and the observed; i.e. a characteristic that makes art universally appealing.
Modigliani began painting when he was young. With the support of his mother, he went to Micheli’s Art School in Italy for two years, from 1898 to 1900. He moved to Paris in 1906.
Modigliani began his famous nude series in 1917. At that time, Modigliani was living with Jeanne Hébuterne, a beautiful French woman who looks like the “Reclining Nude” figure.
Modigliani died at the age of 36 in Paris from meningitis. He lived in poverty and was addicted to alcohol and drugs.
“Reclining Nude” is part of the Mr. and Mrs. Klaus G. Perls Collection, dated 1997, that is exhibited in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Collection also includes “The Dreamer” by Pablo Picasso, also in this museum. Klaus Perls parents were art dealers in Berlin, Germany. His family escaped Germany before outbreak of the Second World War and began an art gallery in Paris. In 1935, Klaus Perls moved to New York and opened the Perls Galleries.
Who knows what compels an amateur art admirer to take a picture of “The Jewish Angel” by Giorgio de Chiirico? Something about the architecture of the piece draws attention; maybe its the eye that seems to be watching a passing audience. It is done by an artist that created magical Italian cityscapes between 1911 and 1917 that influenced Surrealists a decade later.
Giorgio de Chirico was a Greek-born Italian artist. His father was an engineer with a railroad company which explains the engineering feel of “The Jewish Angel” composition. Giorgio studied art in Athens, and worked under Greek painter Georgios Roilos who belonged to the “Munich School” of art. Giorgio de Chirico moved to Germany in 1906 to enter the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. After two years, he settled in Italy.
“The Jewish Angel” is part of the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, dated 1998. Jacques Gelman and his wife were collectors of Mexican art. Jacques Gelman was a producer of Mexican films.
Looking at famous works of art is like mucking around in the attic of one’s mind. A work of art stimulates a dendrite that sparks a memory, emotion, or un-thought-of association that compels attention. Art becomes universally acclaimed when that spark is singularly felt by a wide audience.