“When I know your soul, I will paint your eyes” are Amedeo Modigliani’s most frequently quoted words, made famous by a biographical film with Andy Garcia. However, it is hard to believe, however, that they describe a consistent principle guiding the artist’s work. This becomes obvious when we look at the portrait of his beloved Jeanne Hébuterne from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne, 1919, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

The young woman sits comfortably leaning against the headrest of the armchair. She is wearing a loose white shirt underneath which her rounded pregnant belly hides. There is much tenderness in this depiction, but Jeanne’s eyes remain empty, filled with blue like two ponds of water. And yet, if he knew anyones soul, it was definitely hers. Modigliani had a special affection for his partner, he never decided to show her in nude. He hired professional models for that.

Modigliani was known for his love of poetry, he quoted Dante from memory, he did not part with a copy of “Les Chants de Maldoror”. He was inclined to describe his works poetically. As in the case of the portrait of Léopold Survage, a fellow artist. When the portrayed man asked Modigliani why he gave him only one eye, the painter replied that “we look at the world with one eye and with the other, we look inside ourselves”.

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Amedeo Midigliani, Portrait of Léopold Survage, 1918, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland

Amadeo Modigliani developed a unique style of portraying a human figure. On the one hand, he has applied strongly simplified forms, even abstract ones, on the other hand, it extremely aptly reflected the characteristics of the portrayed characters. Eyes without pupils, in my opinion, do not take away their owners’ souls. However, they make them less accessible to us and more sunken in their own, inner world.

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