Modigliani: A Life

Meryle Secrest, Knopf, $35 (400p) ISBN 978-0-307-26368-1
Secrest, respected biographer of art world personalities (Being Bernard Berenson), musicians such as Leonard Bernstein, and others, sets out in this volume to resurrect the reputation of the modernist painter Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920). Long the stuff of myth and sensationalism, Modigliani's life was fictionalized in book and film while his lifelong battle with tuberculosis was ignored and his art marginalized. Up until recently the literature has portrayed Modigliani as a ranting, drunken, stoned womanizer—"the archetypal accursed artist," as Secrest puts it. Rather, she says, he suffered throughout his life from various illnesses that he attempted to conceal. But the misperception contributed to Modigliani's status as a minor artist. The "separation of truth from fiction" is the author's cause. In her revisionist account, Secrest delves into numerous primary sources to weave together a comprehensive and well-rounded biography of the artist and to bring to life bohemian society in early 20th-century Paris. Additionally, the author surveys the history of Modigliani scholarship, the ongoing problem of forgeries of the artist's work, and the "chaotic field" of authentication. The result is an enjoyable read for all, and a most welcome contribution to Modigliani scholarship. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/10/2011
Release date: 03/01/2011
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