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Oct 2006 Journal

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Art Notes (review)

Few artists achieve such a range of expression within so limited a scope as Amadeo Modigliani. The Royal Academy exhibition Modigliani and his Models gives us the artist's trademark - the pared-down symmetry of long neck, almond eyes and sensual body. Poets, peasants and sometimes rapacious art dealers - several made a mint out of him on his early death from tubercular meningitis - are all treated with a light touch and a sharper perception. It is almost caricature but for the vivid empathy.

However, it is the languid odalisque - the female nude which derives as much from Eastern and African influences as from the shape of the models themselves - which makes this exhibition so luxuriant. Sometimes the eyes are a mere slash of colour, pale blue or brown.

Among the few artists working in Paris in the early twentieth century, Modigliani was a practising Sephardi Jew. The emancipation of Italian-Jewish artists generated a host of portrait painters for him to follow. Spinoza and other humanist philosophers were among his influences, as was Cubism. He befriended Jacob Epstein, whose sculpture shares a similar robust, African simplicity.

Exceptionally handsome, Modigliani attracted many young women of Montmartre, who were only too happy to pose for him. His two closest lovers were the intellectual Russian poet Anna Akhmatova and the beautiful French teenager Jeanne Hébuterne, with whom he had a daughter. On his death, Hébuterne, nine months pregnant, threw herself from her parents' fifth-floor apartment. Only several years later did her upper-class Catholic family permit her body to be buried with that of the Jewish artist.

Modigliani's models have been described as Page 3 prototypes, but they are not even soft porn. The reclining nudes emanate a bizarre knowledge. His saddest work is his prophetic portrait of the pregnant Hébuterne, hands folded over a black maternity dress, her expression resigned. It is eerily funereal.

Howard Hodgkin at Tate Britain is full of primary colours and primitive emotion. Landscapes, memories, love affairs, bodies are the subject matter of this celebrated abstractionist, whose paintings extend seamlessly into his frames, as though he can't bear them to end. Some, but not all, of his mood pieces work brilliantly, such as Bombay Sunset, Waking Up in Naples, or Venice at Night. There is a sense of humour, and a nod to other artists, writers, even songs - like his pointillistic masterpiece Come Into the Garden, Maud. But for all its lushness, there is little sense of development. From the late 1950s to the turn of the twentieth century, nothing more in his garden seems to grow.

Sarah Lightman curated a Fortnight of Solo Shows at the Ben Uri, including the fabrics of Yael David-Cohen and the ceramic art of Jenny Stolzenberg, On the night I went, the Holocaust was predominant in the vision of Hungarian artist Moshe Galili, who sees skulls beneath the flesh. Sculptor Adam Kops, the son of the poet-playwright Bernard Kops, shares his father's flinty originality in sculpture made from bolts, nuts and screws.
Gloria Tessler

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