Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was born in Livorno, Tuscany, Italy, on July 12, 1884. His father was in the money-changing business, but when he went bankrupt the family lived in poverty. Young Modigliani suffered from health problems after an attack of typhoid and tuberculosis, which would affect him for the rest of his life.
In 1902, Modigliani enrolled in the Free School of Nude Studies in Florence. A year later he moved to Venice where he registered to study at the Istituto per le Belle Arti di Venezia. In Venice he first tried hashish, and rather than studying, he began to spend time frequenting the sleazy parts of the city.
In 1906, Modigliani moved to Paris, the focal point of the avant-garde, where he would become the embodiment of the tragic artist.
He settled in Le Bateau-Lavoir, a commune for penniless artists in Montmartre. At first he was influenced by the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec until Paul Cezanne changed his views. Eventually, Modigliani developed his own unique style, one that up to now cannot be adequately categorized with other artists. He is known for his fast work, being able to finish a portrait in one or two sittings without ever reworking. Yet, those who posed for him explained that being painted by Modigliani was like having your soul laid bare.
In 1909, Modigliani returned to his native village, worn out from his wild lifestyle. His stay in Italy was short and soon he was back in Paris, renting a studio in Montparnasse. He began sculpting after Paul Guillaume, an ambitious young art dealer introduced him to sculptor Constantin Brancusi.
Although a series of Modigliani's sculptures were exhibited in the Salon d'Automne of 1912, for whatever reason he abruptly abandoned sculpting and focused solely on his painting.
There is evidence of him being influenced by primitive art from Cambodia and Africa. This interest in African masks shows in the treatment of the sitters' faces in his portraits. They appear ancient, almost resembling Egyptian painting as they are flat with distinctive almond eyes, twisted noses, pursed mouths, and elongated necks.
Among his works are the portraits of many of his Montparnasse contemporaries such as Pablo Picasso, Moise Kisling, Diego Rivera, Juan Gris, Blaise Cendrars, Max Jacob and Jean Cocteau.
Perhaps knowing that for health reasons his life would be short, he carried a death wish, consuming large quantities of drugs and drinking continuously. At the outset of World War I, he tried to enlist in the army but was refused because of his poor health.
Modigliani was a handsome man to whom females were greatly attracted. Women came and went until Beatrice Hastings entered his life. She stayed with him for almost two years. Drunk, he was a bitter, angry person, always looking for a fight. Sober, he was graciously timid and charming.
In 1917 he was introduced to a beautiful 18-year-old art student named Jeanne Hébuterne. She came from a conservative bourgeois background and was renounced by her family for her liaison with the painter. Despite her family, soon they were living together. Although Jeanne was the love of his life, their public fights became even more famous than Modigliani's personal drunken exhibitions.
On December 3, 1917, Modigliani's had his first one-man exhibition but the chief of police was scandalized by Modigliani's nudes and forced him to close the exhibition within a few hours after its opening.
After moving to Nice with Jeanne she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter whom they would also name Jeanne. While in Nice, Modigliani managed to sell a few pictures but only for a few francs each. The funds he received, soon vanished for drugs and alcohol. During this time he produced most of the paintings that would become his most popular and valued works.
In May of 1919 he returned to Paris, where, with Jeanne and their daughter, he rented an apartment in the rue de la Grande Chaumière.
Although he continued to paint, his lifestyle had taken its toll and Modigliani's health was deteriorating rapidly. His alcoholic blackouts became more frequent. After not being heard from for several days by his friends checked in on him and found Modigliani delirious in bed, holding onto Jeanne, who was nearly nine months pregnant. A doctor was summoned but little could be done as Modigliani was suffering from tubercular meningitis.
Modigliani died on January 24, 1920 without regaining consciousness. Jeanne Hébuterne, who had been taken to her parents' home, threw herself out of a fifth-floor window two days after Modigliani's death, killing herself and her unborn child.
Their orphaned 15-month-old daughter Jeanne was adopted by Modigliani's sister in Florence.