The day after the first major Modigliani exhibition in the US for 40 years opens in Buffalo, an even bigger Modigliani show opens in Paris—the first in France for 20 years—at the prestigious Musée du Luxembourg. Given the state of the commercial and scholarly worlds that continue to be sustained by Modigliani’s small oeuvre (the market is riddled with fakes, and the various attempts at compiling a credible catalogue raisonné seem to be paralysed by in-fighting), it has been a challenge for the two curators to keep out the goats. At any rate, the Paris show claims to contain almost a quarter of Modigliani’s output of drawings, sculptures and paintings, and around a third of the works (there are 100 in total) have never been exhibited before in France. The title of the show comes from a letter the tubucular Modigliani wrote to his friend, Dr Paul Alexandre, just before he died: “Happiness is an angel with a sad face.” The letter was signed, “Le resuscité”, but of course, the young Italian’s illness was too advanced for resuscitation—not in this life anyway—and the world was left with a compelling body of work that, say the exhibition organisers, was still to some extent the work of an apprentice. Modigliani’s subject matter was certainly very limited: he painted only portraits and nudes, and sculpted heads. The portraits in this show include the celebrated images of Leopold de Zborowski (above), Paul Guillaume, his girlfriends Béatrice Hastings and Jeanne Hébuterne, and his male friends Soutine, Kisling, Chéron and Max Jacob.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Modigliani: l’ange au visage grave'