At the turn of the 20th century, Montmartre was a haven for penniless painters. Riddled with poverty, it became home to starving artists from across the world and would become the birthplace of famed artistic movements. Amedeo Modigliani’s story embodies that history.
Amedeo was born in Liverno, Italy to a once wealthy Jewish Italian family in financial ruin. As it was illegal to strip a pregnant woman of her family goods, Amadeo’s birth would save the family from disrepute.
Encouraged by his mother to take up art, childhood bouts of typhoid and tuberculosis would plague his development as an artist. While he showed great promise in his teachings under Guglielmo Micheli, his tuberculousis would persist. He traveled between Florence, Rome and Venice, where he first smoked hashish, a habit that would lead to addiction. His fascination with the philosophies of Nietzsche, Baudelaire, Carducci subsequently fashioned a belief that the only true way creativity was through disorder.
It was inevitable then, that Modigliani’s next destination would be the poverty stricken streets of Montmartre. Moving to Paris in 1906, like Picasso before him, he squatted in the Bateau-Lavoir . It was here in Montmartre where Amedeo’s bourgeois reputation would fall into disarray.
Within a year of his arriving, he had destroyed practically all of his earlier work in an attempt to remove the trappings of his well to do heritage. By this time, Modigliani had become immersed in drugs and alcohol, using them to treat the pain of his tuberculosis.
Acquiring the reputation as a prince of vagabonds, Modigliani’s art was as prolific as his reliance on hashish and absinthe. In Montmartre he would fraternise with Utrillo and Soutine, seeking validation from his contemporaries. Fascinated with the human form, his paintings of nudes and gaunt figures, barely allowed to him make a living.
He would return to Liverno in 1909, only to move back to Paris soon after. He rented a studio in Montparnasse and took up sculpting, before abandoning it in 1914 and returning to painting. In 1917, his nudes were shown in Paris, but the exhibit was quickly shut down due to indecency. The exhibition was the only one of Modigliani’s life. He would die destitute in Paris in 1920 at the age of 35.
In a bitter twist of fate, two of his paintings from the 1917 exhibition would go on to become two of the most expensive paintings of all time. His painting, Nu couché was sold for $170,405,000 in 2015. And in 2018, his painting Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) broke a sales record at Sotheby’s, selling for $157.2 million.
The Bateau-Lavoir, where Modigliani lived, is a mere 5 minute walk away from our hostel. Book with us now and discover Montmartre on your doorstep!