In preparing the Modigliani exhibition, an original speech by Modigliani’s friend and fellow artist, Léopold Survage on Modigliani was found in a file at the Ateneum Art Museum. Survage delivered the speech in Paris in 1947 and sent it to Finland some time after Modigliani’s portrait of him was purchased for the museum’s collection in 1955. The document has not been utilised in Modigliani studies so far. Here FNG Research publishes for the first time a facsimile of the original document and an English translation of the text
My Speech on Modigliani in Paris in 1947
Léopold Survage (1879–1968)
The original document: Archive Collections / Finnish National Gallery
Transl. Valerie Vainonen
It is thanks to the friendship and affection I feel for Modigliani that I have undertaken to outline some of the characteristics of this unique painter in so far as I have understood them during the periods of his life in which I myself have played a part.
The legend that has grown up around Modigliani has, like all legends, already attributed to him things which are not always true or which are interlaced with facts that have been misinterpreted. Others were true, like those that gave rise to such epithets as ‘Bohemian’ and ‘Montparno’, as opposed to that class of Parisians considered to be ‘the honest bourgeoisie’ with their mundane and dreary way of life, imposed by their work, their character and their concern for upholding a good reputation in their neighbourhood.
The young man was poor. The only baggage he brought with him when he arrived from Italy was the spiritual heritage of his Israeli family with the purity and idealism only that race is capable of developing. He had inherited his nobility of soul from his mother. He showed me her photograph with poignant love and admiration. A striking face, intelligent and fine, with an aristocratic look that ran in the family.
His most remarkable quality, one that never left him even in the most difficult and frustrating situations in his life, was his nobility of soul. His entire appearance, his gestures, his words were those of a long line of aristocrats without pride and full of simplicity and amiability.
The abrupt leap, his departure from Livorno and his abandonment of the family that had protected him from the harshness of life, was the first major shock he had encountered.
Would this young man adjust to the remorseless demands of Paris? He brought with him his gifts, his impetuousness. How would the city welcome him?