Timo Huusko, PhD.Lic., Chief Curator, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki
Published in English exclusively in FNG Research. Transl. Wif Stenger
In 1918 Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) painted a portrait of his fellow artist Léopold Survage (1879–1968), who was a good friend – indeed, one of Modigliani’s biographers describes Survage as one of his true artist friends after 1913, the other being Chaïm Soutine.
Their friendship likely aided the success of the portrait. Modigliani, after all, was primarily interested in the model’s personality, more so than his or her external features. As a result, when he painted strangers he had to spend quite a long time getting to know them. Most often, the actual painting itself proceeded quickly.
The portrait of Survage is apparently the only oil painting by Modigliani in Finnish ownership. It shows traits that are characteristic of Modigliani’s oeuvre. The elegant use of lines from old Italian art is combined with a more painterly approach to colour in the background and clothing. The face, which is more firmly formed, stands out from the stippled background, creating an impression of a reserved but sensitive man.
In this portrait Modigliani, in his typical manner, has stretched the subject’s face and neck, while dropping the shoulder line. The model is basically recognisable when one compares it to photographs of Survage that were taken later. The work still reflects the artist’s interest in taking influences from art that were considered non-European and primitive. However the shaping of the face is not as angular as those painted in Modigliani’s portraits two or three years earlier.
On the other hand the work does not yet show the kind of mannerism sometimes brought into later paintings with the use of stylised curved lines and a smoothing of the background. Of the works in the ‘Amedeo Modigliani’ retrospective exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum (2016–17), the closest to that of Survage is probably the portrait of Gaston Modot (Centre Pompidou, Paris), which was painted in the same year, 1918.
 William Fifield, Modigliani. The Biography. New York: Morrow, 1976, 180.
Featured image: Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of the Artist Léopold Survage, 1918, oil on canvas, 61,5cm x 46cm, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen
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