Thursday, May 27, 2010

Redheaded Venus of the Week 7: Venus by Modigliani

Venus, (1918) by Amedeo Modigliani

This is an unusual nude from Modigliani for several reasons. Firstly, the figure is shown standing, rather than the more usual reclining or sitting nudes of Modigliani's painted nudes period. Rather than being just a nude for the sake of it she is actually named as a "Venus" and is posed in the classical Botticelli way.

More noticeably is her colouring, however. Most of Modigliani's nudes were painted with black or dark brown hair but everything about this one indicates a real redhead. The hair on her head is a rich red and her pubic hair a paler orange colour. As someone who has explored more than few redheads this colour differential is not unusual. Many redheads colour their hair, as red hair tends to lose its colour very early in life; being grey at thirty is not unusual. Henna was a popular dye in the nineteenth century (as it still is: Triple P had a friend who used to source her henna in suspicious looking packages from Casablanca) and this has that characteristic dark tint. Her face has a pink blush on the cheeks which is far more visible than on his other figures. Her nippes are paler than he usually depicted. Above all. her skin is very pale compared with most of Modigliani's other nudes. He tended to render women's bodies in flat, largely unshaded, expanses of fairly dark colour. The different parts of the body were indicated by line rather than tone. The effect is almost like a Roman, terracotta amphora.

Modigliani painted quickly, in rapid bursts of energy, often finishing a painting in a couple of hours. Drink and drugs fuelled his endeavours: his normal companion when he painted (he never let people in to his studio when he was working) being a bottle of brandy. The sculptor Chana Orloff once observed of Modigliani that "To work well he had to have two or three glasses of wine. After the first it didn't work; after the second things were a little better; after the third his hand worked on its own...he threw a way sketches when he was sober. He drew with incredible facility when intoxicated."

This painting was sold at Christies New York, in November 2006, for $15,920,000.

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