Jeune femme à la robe jaune (Renée Modot)

Young Woman in a Yellow Dress (Renée Modot)

1918

Accession year 1986

Oil on canvas, 92 x 60 cm

Signed on the front, top right: “modigliani”

Collection Fondazione Francesco Federico Cerruti per l’Arte

Long-term loan Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Turin

Inv. no. CC.11.P.MOD.1918.A142

Provenance: Léopold Zborowski, Paris; Bernheim-Jeune Collection, Paris (purchased from Zborowski, 6 June 1922, inv. 23057); M.me Guérin (purchased from Bernheim-Jeune, 9 April 1923); Jonas Netter Collection, Paris (from 1929); M.me Montreaux, Paris; Galerie Bing Collection, Paris (from 1950); Robert von Hirsch Collection; Sotheby’s, London, The Robert von Hirsch Collection, 20 June 1978 (lot 743); private collection, Rome; Sotheby’s, New York, Impressionist and Modern Paintings and Sculpture, Part I, 18 November 1986 (lot 43).

Exhibitions: Zurich 1930 (no. 141); Venice 19301 (p. 120, no. 29); Brussels 1933b (no. 32); Basel 1934 (no. 24); Lausanne 1994 (pp. 53 ill., 164 no. 12); Florence 1994-95 (pp. 56 ill., 136 no. 14); Lugano 1999 (pp. 119 ill., 201 no. 60, ill.); Madrid-Paris 2007-08 (pp. 249 ill., 386); Padua 2010-11 (pp. 208 ill., 280, no. 108); Paris- Milan-Rome 2013-14 (p. 137, ill.); Forlì 2015 (pp. 295 ill., 370 no. 241); London 2017-18 (pp. 94-95, ill.); Philadelphia 2022-23 (L. Cantone, L. Mensi, entry, cat. 38, pp. 190-194, ill.); Stüttgart-Potsdam 2023-24 (J.-H. Ullner, entry, pp. 276-277, ill.).

Bibliography: Pfannstiel 1929, p. 47/II; Di San Lazzaro 1947, pl. XIV; Scheiwiller 1950, pl. 37; Descargues 1951, pl. 43; Di San Lazzaro 1953, pl. XIV; Descargues 1954, p. 43, ill.; Ceroni 1965, p. 47, pl. 203; I dipinti di Modigliani 1970, p. 102, no. 283, ill.; Lanthemann 1970, no. 335; Ceroni, Darses, Cachin 1972, no. 283; Parisot 1991, pp. 216 ill., 331 no. 32/1918; Hermenegildo Bustos / Amedeo Modigliani 2010, p. 223, ill.; Dauberville 2015, pp. 90-91, no. 26; The Cerruti Collection 2019, p. 25, ill.; E. Braun, entry, in Christov-Bakargiev 2021, vol. II, pp. 764-767.

The sitter of this portrait was Renée Modot, recently married to the actor Gaston Modot, whose image Modigliani painted at the same time. Modot had known Modigliani since his earliest years in Montmartre and was an artist himself , though by this time he had gained renown as a cinema star and daredevil.

Renée Modot was often told that she “looked like a woman from a Gauguin painting,” a resemblance that may have been one inspiration for Modigliani’s unusual emphasis on the decorative in this portrait.

Unique among Amedeo Modigliani portraits for its exuberant, decorative background in combination with a floral-patterned dress, this work was painted by the artist in 1918 in Nice, probably during the summer months. At the urging of his dealer, Léopold Zborowski, Modigliani left Paris that April to seek refuge in the South of France: the impoverished artist was in ill health, his companion, Jeanne Hébuterne, was pregnant, and German howitzers had bombarded Paris. With little money for paid models and no commissioned portraits forthcoming, Modigliani made portraits of children, local townspeople, and a close circle of friends, who had also migrated south. Despite the setbacks, his period on the Riviera (he moved between Haut-de-Cagnes and Nice) proved to be one of the most productive of his career.

The sitter of this portrait was Renée Modot, recently married to the actor Gaston Modot, whose image Modigliani painted at the same time. Modot had known Modigliani since his earliest years in Montmartre and was an artist himself (as the beret he wears in his portrait wryly acknowledges), though by this time he had gained renown as a cinema star and daredevil. Both the Gaumont and Pathée film companies had studios in Nice.2 Madame Modot recalled that Modigliani, her husband and Hébuterne set up a makeshift studio in their house, where she posed during the afternoons. Though Modigliani apparently also made other images of her, none of these has yet been identified.3 Renée Modot was often told that she “looked like a woman from a Gauguin painting,” a resemblance that may have been one inspiration for Modigliani’s unusual emphasis on the decorative in this portrait.4

He typically placed his sitters against abstracted planes, for the most part mono- or bi-chromatic, articulated by the lines of door frames, mantle pieces, or wall panelling. Here, both the use of a flat, patterned backdrop and the floral motifs on the dress recall Gauguin’s portraiture; the dominance of brilliant chrome (or cadmium) yellow, while unusual for Modigliani, was one of Gauguin’s most characteristic colour choices. Gauguin, in turn, influenced Henri Matisse, to whom this portrait is most directly indebted. Modigliani depicted Modot in front of a tapestry with a bold arabesque design, the curves of her coiffure embedded amidst the flourishes and scrolls, in a virtual homage to Matisse’s Greta Moll (1908, London, The National Gallery) and its bluish-black and white backdrop.5 The poses of the models’ proper right arms are nearly identical. The sloe-eyed, dark-haired female type also resembles Matisse’s series of portraits of Laurette, the Italian model whom he painted obsessively in 1916-17.

The Modot portrait is singular in Modigliani’s oeuvre for the placing of the pupils to the right edges of the eyes, as if in a sideways glance, though she still meets the viewer’s gaze. Matisse had also settled in Nice by 1919, with periodic returns to Paris, but there is no evidence that the two artists were in contact with each other there during the war. Once he finished his canvases, Modigliani handed them over to Zborowski, who took the stock to sell in Paris; the names of many sitters, if not famous, were replaced by descriptive titles, their identities subsequently lost over the decades, as was the case with Renée Modot. It bore the title Jeune Fille à la robe jaune (Young Girl in a Yellow Dress) in Arthur Pfannstiel’s 1929 monograph on the artist and Ritratto di Donna (Portrait of a Woman) when first publicly exhibited at the 1930 XVII Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte di Venezia in the Modigliani retrospective, curated by Lionello Venturi (fig. 3).6 Only after World War II did the painting appear with the erroneous title or subtitle La belle Espagnole (The Beautiful Spanish Woman), undoubtedly due to the dark eyes and hair of the sitter, in combination with the “Moorish” arabesques of the tapestry, rendered by the artist in glistening, animated black strokes.7

[Emily Braun]

1 Photo Library of the Biennale, Venice, 1930, photo, no. 306.

2 S. Fraquelli, “Modigliani and the Impact of the Midi”, in London 2017, pp. 151-152, the Modot portraits were painted in Nice. Modigliani came to visit them and their friend Blaise Cendrars, who was working there on Abel Gance’s film J’Accuse (1919).

3 Robinson J. 1974, p. 14. Interviewed in this article, Renée Modot recounted: “I’m not sure how many I posed for because it was such a long time ago, but I think it was a half dozen. It was during the summer of 1919 [sic]. We were in Nice and so was Modi and he came over to our house every afternoon to work. Gaston, Modi and his wife Jeanne Hébuterne painted and sketched while I posed.”

4 Modot quoted in Robinson J. 1974.

5 Matisse exhibited the portrait in the Salon d’Automne of 1908 and it was one of his six paintings illustrated in his widely read “Notes of a Painter,” published that same year; Klein 2001, p. 157.

6 Pfannstiel 1929, p. 47 as Jeune fille a la robe jaune; Venice 1930, p. 120, no. 29, Ritratto di Donna (Coll. Signora Monteux [sic], Paris). The verso of the canvas has two partially extant inventory labels from the exhibition, including one with the title “Portrait de Femme”. A different, handwritten label, date unknown, on the verso reads “La belle espagnole”.

7 The title La belle espagnole first appears in Di San Lazzaro 1947, pl. XIV; and subsequently in Scheiwiller 1950, pl. 37, La bella spagnola.