If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Modigliani, Young Woman in a Shirt

Amedeo Modigliani, Young Woman in a Shirt, 1918, oil on canvas (Albertina, Vienna). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

(jazz music) Voiceover: We're in the Albertina and we're looking at a Modigliani called Young Woman in a Shirt. It's a fairly classical Modigliani. Voiceover: She's not really in her shirt. Voiceover: No, that's true. She seems to be holding some sort of white cloth against her. Voiceover: But you used the word classical and I think that makes a lot of sense. We notice these lovely curves of her contours and that calls to mind ancient Greek sculpture or even the nudes of Ang with their elongated sinuous contours. Voiceover: There's this real crisis, I think. Here we have somebody coming out of the Italian tradition who is very much a modernist, but trying to find a relationship between the 20th century, between all of the precepts of modernism in its self-consciousness and of course its history, as well. There's so much emphasis on his self-aware use of material. Look at the quality of the skin. So often, you referred to Ang, you might think of this porcelain-like quality to this skin of the more academic traditions coming out of the 19th century, but here you have this very stippled, rough surface, that looks as if it's stucco, that is anything but porcelain and anything besides smooth. It is calling attention to itself as material and more than that, calling attention to the artist's application of that material. Voiceover: You're right, her skin doesn't look like porcelain like an Ang, but on the other hand, it reminds one of fresco or terra cotta. There is still that sense of classicism that comes through and it's important, I think, to remember that this is 1918, after Braque and Picasso have dissolved form and fractured space and Modigliani is very intentionally painting something that looks timeless and classical. Voiceover: I think that that's right. This is, first and foremost, a nude and this is the most traditional subject. There is a tremendous amount of respect for that tradition that's built into this painting. At the same time, he's also emphasizing a system of seeing or a system of representation that has less to do with what he's observing and more to do with the painting itself. I'm seeing that, for instance, in the way that the limbs are constructed, which seem to be relating to the system of arabesques, as opposed to the way the musculature and the skeletal structure is actually defined in this body. Voiceover: Right, but you could say that also about Ang. Voiceover: That's true, absolutely. Ang begins to play fast and loose with the skeletal structure, but this is Ang on the other side of Braque and Picasso, as you were saying. Voiceover: There is a kind of shorthand here that Ang would never have taken. For example, if you look at her hands, the left hand that's on her lap is formed by just some orange, terra cotta colored paint and then little lines of orangeish-red for the tops of her fingers. Voiceover: We're talking about the process of making, of the artist finding his forms, finding his lines, finding the methods of representation. I think Modigliani wants us to have our attention there. Yes, he wants us to see this woman, but at the same time, he wants us to see his process and he's allowed for his pencil lines to remain present. Voiceover: And even the canvas underneath in many areas. Voiceover: That's right, and for a variety of different kinds of strokes, different kinds of brushwork, different touches. There is something very physical and very much process-oriented here that is allowed to remain visible. In a sense, the method of construction, the process, the intellectual thinking through of the method of representation and meaning is made apparent to us. Voiceover: Yeah, I think that's absolutely right. I think that Modigliani is certainly drawing our attention to different kinds of strokes and the rapidity of some, the carefulness of others, the delicacy of some. Voiceover: In some ways, and this is something that Modigliani does often, by not painting in the eyes, he's allowing us, almost like a classical sculpture, to look at the forms, as opposed to the gaze of the figure. Voiceover: By making those eyes these lozenge shapes without real pupils to gaze back at us, we are reminded, immediately, of the abstraction here, of the geometry here, of the form. Voiceover: The early 20th century was such an extraordinary moment when there was all this tension between representation and technique and what that meant in a world that was aware of the process of art making as the art itself. (jazz music)