Amedeo Modigliani

I believe those who describe him didn’t know him as I did, and here’s why. First, I could know only one side of his being—the radiant side. After all I was just a stranger, probably a not easily understood twenty-year-old woman, a foreigner. Secondly, I myself noticed a big change in him when we met in 1911. Somehow, he had grown dark and haggard.

In 1910 I saw him extremely seldom: only a few times. Nevertheless he wrote to me all winter long.1 He didn’t tell me that he composed verses.

As I understand it now, what he must have found astonishing in me was my ability to guess rightly his thoughts, to know his dreams and other small things—others who knew me had become accustomed to this a long time before. He kept repeating: “On communique.” Often he said: “Il n’y a que vous pour réaliser cela.”

Probably, we both did not understand one important thing: everything that happened was for both of us a prehistory of our future lives: his very short one, my very long one. The breathing of art still had not charred or transformed the two existences; this must have been the light, radiant hour before dawn.

But the future, which as we know throws its shadow long before it enters, knocked at the window, hid itself behind lanterns, crossed dreams, and frightened us with horrible Baudelairean Paris, which concealed itself someplace near by.

And everything divine in Modigliani only sparkled through a kind of darkness. He was different from any other person in the world. His voice somehow always remained in my memory. I knew him as a beggar and it was impossible to understand how he existed—as an artist he didn’t have a shadow of recognition.

At that time (1911) he lived at Impasse Falguière. He was so poor that when we sat in the Luxembourg Gardens we always sat on the bench, not on the paid chairs, as was the custom. On the whole he did not complain, not about his completely evident indigence, nor about his equally evident nonrecognition.

Only once in 1911 did he say that during the last winter he felt so bad that he couldn’t even think about the thing most precious to him.

He seemed to me encircled with a dense ring of loneliness. I don’t remember him exchanging greetings in the Luxembourg Gardens or in the Latin Quarter where everybody more or less knows each other. I never heard him tell a joke. I never saw him drunk nor did I smell wine on him. Apparently, he started to drink later, but hashish already somehow figured in his stories. He didn’t seem to have a special girl friend at that time. He never told stories about previous romances (as, alas, everybody does). With me he didn’t talk about anything that was worldly. He was courteous, but this wasn’t a result of his upbringing but the result of his elevated spirit.

At that time he…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.