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Amedeo Modigliani's nickname was Modi, in reference to maudit, meaning "cursed." The artist believed he was destined to live a short life after a streak of bad health, and indeed, he died at 35 after a 19-year battle with tuberculosis. Up to that point he lived the life of a quintessential bohemian artist, broke, drenched in alcohol, and searching for meaning through creativity. In such a short career he managed to leave behind a heap of art, and this winter a small portion can be seen at the Jewish Museum in New York in its latest exhibit on the artist, "Modigliani: Unmasked." It is a modest show but succeeds in showing how a Sephardic Jew from Italy grappled with his complex identity in the years leading up to the Holocaust.
Modigliani moved to Paris in 1906, the same year Captain Alfred Dreyfus was finally vindicated, so he was walking into an environment of virulent anti-Semitism. His ability to pass as Parisian—he was fluent in the language and knowledgable of the city's history—laid a clear path for him to struggle with his identity. The museum attempts to link this struggle to his use of masks as a motif in his work, which the curators attest was a confrontation of psychological depth. Although his application of masks was the most pivotal moment in Modigliani's short career, it serves only as an emotional barrier between his subjects and their audience.
Move - Paris - Time - Modigliani - Anti-Semitism
His move to Paris was likely the first time Modigliani had to confront anti-Semitism. He was born in Livorno, where Jews were not confined to a ghetto but shared in the cultural and intellectual stew enjoyed by gentile elites. In Paris, however, Modigliani most certainly encountered the anti-Semitic propaganda that the museum displays, and his shock turned to defiance. He introduced himself as Jewish to...
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