Born into a wealthy Italian Jewish intellectual family that had fallen on hard times, his life was fraught with drama from inception. He was the youngest of four children and Amedeo's timely arrival may have resulted in the rescue of many valuable heirlooms which insured their survival. According to family legend, soldiers came to repossess the furniture, but an old Italian custom forbade the seizure of the bed of a woman in labor so they hid family jewels and assets around her. Modigliani had a particularly close relationship with his mother, who taught her son at home until he was ten due to ongoing ill health. He spent his youth in Italy, where he studied the art of antiquity and the Renaissance and had a particular interest in Existential philosophy.
He is best known for portraits and figurative work in a modern style characterized by elongation and almost mask like faces, necks, and figures. Like Picasso, he drew inspiration from so-called “primitive” art, his work often resembling African or Pre-Columbian sculptures. One of the many ironies of Modigliani’s career is that so tragic a life could produce so serene a body of work. The French poet Jean Cocteau, called Modigliani “the simplest and noblest genius of that heroic age.” He blazed his own path, rather than aligning himself with any art movements of the day.
He was once quoted as saying that he knew his life would be short and intense and he did everything to that end. Under the bravado was a different story. He had TB and at that time it was contagious and incurable. He created a lot of smoke and mirrors to disguise the fact with his lifestyle and indulgences, preferring to be seen as a person under the influence rather than someone afflicted with an incurable disease. Modigliani's legacy is inextricably bound up with his tragic and bohemian life, his fragile health, and self-destructive lifestyle. He was known as the" Melancholy Angel", the" Prince of the Bohemians", and a friend to all the artists of Montmartre and Montparnasse.
At the age 35, destitute in his cold, damp studio, he finally succumbed to tubercular meningitis. His funeral was attended by a Who’s Who of the Paris art world: Modigliani's personal life epitomized the myth of the classic bohemian painter. Four years after his death, French novelist Michel Georges-Michel made him the tragic hero of a melodrama, Les Montparnos, which he modeled on the opera La Bohème. Since then, Modigliani’s life has been romanticized in many books, plays, and films.
In his lifetime he gave away drawings for meals and today continues to be one of the highest selling and sought after artists in the world, and one of the most frequently forged.
* This is an extremely PG version and the class only gets a brief overview. His is one of the more interesting stories so if you are curious, check out Wikipedia or other bios of him.