Modigliani’s Female Nude is a radical reworking of the conventions of figurative painting and sculpture in western European art. The sensuous pose of the sleeping model, her head tilted to one side, is typical of the vast number of classicising nudes that were shown annually at the Salon in Paris. However, the woman’s elongated face and boldly simplified features derive in generalised terms from the traditions of non-western art and testify to Modigliani’s knowledge of Egyptian, African and Oceanic sculpture. Moreover, his rough handling of paint ran counter to the highly-finished, smoothed surfaces found in most Salon nudes at this time. Here he applies the paint with a short stabbing action, manipulating it whilst still wet so that the marks of his stiff brush are clearly visible, as are the deeply scratched lines made with the end of his brush to accentuate the model’s hair.
Modigliani’s combination of conventional and avant-garde elements effectively fused the classical aesthetics of western art with the art of other cultures: a conjunction that contemporaries considered an affront to the grand tradition of European painting. However, is was Modigliani’s explicit depiction of pubic hair in his nudes – a taboo in Salon paintings – that proved most controversial and led to the police closing his exhibition at Berthe Weill’s gallery in 1917 on grounds of indecency.
Curator Dr Barnaby Wright discusses Modigliani’s ‘Female Nude’