Saturday, Sep 24, 2022

Explained: Who was Amedeo Modigliani, the focus of Johnny Depp’s upcoming movie?

Johnny Depp's second film as director will look at the life of the Italian painter Modigliani, whose painting showing a reclining nude woman sold for over $157 million in 2018.

Modigliani paintingModigliani is best known for his distinctive portraits and nudes with elongated bodies, slender necks, oval faces, and almond-shaped eyes. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Twenty-five years after making his debut as a director with ‘The Brave’ (1997), actor Johnny Depp will direct a film based on the life of Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani. An adaptation of American playwright Dennis McIntyre’s play ‘Modigliani’, Depp will direct and co-produce the film with Al Pacino and Barry Navidi.

Fox News quoted from a press release that had Depp saying: “The saga of Mr Modigliani’s life is one that I’m incredibly honoured, and truly humbled, to bring to the screen… It was a life of great hardship, but eventual triumph — a universally human story all viewers can identify with.”

Who was Modigliani, and what is he best known for?

Modigliani (1884-1920), an Italian-born artist who worked mostly in Paris, is considered one of the greatest figurative artists of the early 20th century. He is best known for his distinctive portraits and nudes with elongated bodies, slender necks, oval faces, and almond-shaped eyes. Between 1909 and 1914, he devoted himself primarily to sculpture, championing direct carving in stone, primarily using limestone.

How did Modigliani venture into art?

Born into an intellectually-inclined Jewish family in Livorno, Italy, in 1884, almost all of Modigliani’s short life was fraught with ill-health. At 11, he developed pleurisy, an inflammation of lung tissue that makes breathing painful, followed by typhoid a few years later. At 16, he developed pleurisy again, and then contracted tuberculosis which eventually led to his demise at the age of 35.

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While he was in bed with typhoid, he asked his mother to take him to Florence to see the paintings at the Uffizi Gallery art museum and the Renaissance palace of Palazzo Pitti. Supportive of his interest in literature and art, his mother enrolled him for lessons in art with Guglielmo Micheli, from whom he studied landscape, portraiture, still life, and nude paintings. Modigliani’s mother also took him on a tour of Naples, Rome, Florence, and Venice to view the works of the masters.

How did he show up in France?

In 1906, the young Modigliani left Italy for Paris, where he came in contact with artists such as Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Giorgio de Chirico, and Andre Derain. It is also in Paris that he met his future patron Paul Alexandre, and sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who inspired Modigliani’s sculptures, which drew from African, Egyptian, and Greek traditions.

Modigliani was also associated with the Fauvism art movement, characterised by energetic brushwork and intense colours. Some of the notable practitioners of the Fauvism tradition included Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet.


An exhibition of Modigliani’s nudes at a gallery in Paris in 1917 was termed scandalous and indecent. Large groups of people gathered outside the gallery to view the works, and the police demanded that the show be removed on grounds of obscenity. More than a hundred years later, in 2018, one of those paintings, showing a reclining nude woman, sold for over $157 million at a Sotheby’s auction. At the time, the price was the highest ever achieved for a work of art at a Sotheby’s auction.

What is the storyline of the play that has inspired Depp’s film?

The film, production for which will begin in Europe in the spring of 2023, will be the fourth biopic on the life of the artist. McIntyre’s 1979 three-part play focuses on a “turbulent and eventful” 48 hours from the artist’s life in 1916 in Paris. It also features fellow artists Maurice Utrillo and Chaim Soutine, as well as poet Beatrice Hastings, who was Modigliani’s love interest at the time. The cast of the film is still to be announced.

First published on: 18-08-2022 at 07:24:58 pm
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