Biography

Modigliani (1884-1920) is arguably the best known and most popular of all modern Italian painters, yet many cultures influenced his work and he lived the years of his artistic growth and maturity in France.
Born in Livorno, Modigliani was a delicate child and almost died of tuberculosis at the age of sixteen. He studied in Florence and Venice, but moved to Paris in 1906 – at that time the epicentre of avant-garde experimentation. Although energised by the city’s vibrant artistic circles, he eschewed Fauvism, Cubism and other artistic trends being explored by his contemporaries, single-mindedly pursuing his own ideal of timeless beauty.
Modigliani drew upon a wide range of influences, absorbing those elements that accorded with his own character and aesthetic sensibility: the mesmerising quality of Egyptian art, the purity and majesty of Greek sculpture, the gentle humour of the Etruscans, the noble austerity of Roman imagery, and the robust approach of the African artist. Of equal significance was his deep feeling for his Italian artistic ancestors, including Simone Martini, Botticelli and Titian, with their humanity, tender spirituality and adoration of the human form. These influences are apparent in Modigliani’s essential, elongated portraits and sculptures of caryatids. Modigliani’s life was blighted by alcohol addiction, yet the mythologising of his bohemian lifestyle has, to a degree, obscured the sobriety of his work.
In his 1946 autobiography, the Futurist painter Gino Severini sought to correct the commonly held, yet distorted, view of the artist’s excesses: “Modigliani was not prone to vice, he was neither a vulgar alcoholic nor a degenerate. Where are all those abuses that have created volumes of literature? What did the bourgeoisie think, after all? That the same mentality necessary for calculating total sums in account books or for duping customers could also give rise to the creation of paintings? So much of humanity, without drinking a drop of wine, is more vulgar than Modigliani ever was, even after two or three absinthes!”

History of the Collectors

Eric Estorick (1913-93) was an American sociologist and writer who began seriously to collect works of art after he came to live in England following the Second World War. Born in Brooklyn, Estorick studied at New York University during the early 1930s. It was there that he discovered The Gallery of Living Art in Washington Square College, a remarkable collection containing masterpieces by Picasso, Léger, Miró and Matisse which was to inspire him to become a collector himself.

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The building

The Estorick Collection is housed in a beautiful Georgian building previously known as Northampton Lodge. It was constructed between 1807 and 1810 by the entrepreneur Henry Leroux of Stoke Newington, who leased a plot of land from the Ninth Earl of Northampton in 1803 to build a series of house.

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Library

The Estorick Collection Library holds a large number of volumes relating to twentieth-century Italian Art. It is open to researchers and Members of the Estorick by appointment.

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