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Modigliani’s caryatids
Written by Mika TAKIGUCHI   
Published: September 23 2008

fig. 1 "La Femme en noir" (1916), copyright © 2008 Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc.

fig. 2 "Portrait de femme" (1919), copyright © 2008 Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc.

     Four portraits are juxtaposed in the last room of the exhibition. At a glance, they look more or less the same, wearing black clothes, pupils being painted out, with long necks and sloping shoulders. However, subtle differences are to convey their individual backgrounds: her age, family, and personality.

       The first woman squints her eyes not because the sunshine is bright but because she tries to value or judge someone. Is he trustworthy? Does he have fortune? Shall I flatter him? The background is like a garden where it rains constantly.

      The second woman with rosy cheeks is more like an ordinary woman than a noble lady. She is not a woman of great beauty, for her right and left eyes fall apart, and the outer corner of the right eye slants upwards while that of the eyebrow turns downwards. These eyes, however, suggest that she laughs a lot (and cries a lot, too). She is in front of a wall in a damp, dark room. Nevertheless, she does not particularly think that she is unhappy.

fig. 3 "Jenne fille blonde en buste" (1919), copyright © 2008 Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc.

fig. 4 "Portrait de femme" (1917), copyright © 2008 Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc.

     The third woman is much younger. Her mouth is half open, and she is going to speak right away. You insist that, but is it legitimate to say so? She is clever, and she always picks an argument when she talks to someone. Her eyes are somehow judgmental, but unlike the first woman, she does not flatter anyone. There is heavy rain in the background. Likewise, she shoots a storm of words. Then she suddenly becomes silent. The forth woman has large black eyes without pupils. They reflect her sorrow. Probably she thinks of her late husband who died long ago. The past memory with him emerges in her mind, though she tries hard to forget about it. The memory is so dark that it dyes her eyes all black. They reflect the depth of her sorrow. In the background, shadows raise behind her, hanging over her both shoulders.

     Modigliani dreamt of building the temple of amusement, and he left several paintings of Caryatids which were supposed to support the temple. A Caryatid touches her knees down, bends her neck and lowers herself. It is more bulky and fat than a slender, standing Caryatid which supports the entablature of a Greek temple. Her posture looks more appropriate to support something lower, such as a table or a fountain. Her plump body reminds the word ‘fertile’. Yes, it is a Caryatid which supports the table of the banquet on which every kind of cuisine is served. The table of pleasure, joy of appetite.

fig. 5 "Cariatide" (1914), copyright © 2008 Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc.

     Why, then, did Modigliani give up his idea of building the temple of amusement? He had physical problems which made it difficult for him to tackle with marble sculpture. His physical strength was not strong enough to chisel solid block of stones.

     Turning back to the four portraits of women in black, it occurred to me that they might well be Caryatids, too, because of their column-like slenderness.

     The plump and bulky Caryatids were designed to support the temple of amusement for Modigliani. What, then, are these Caryatids in black supposed to support? What kind of temple might it be?

     The image of the building does not come to my mind. Instead, I could see ruins behind them. After the roof and walls collapsed, only the four columns remain. Dust rises from the ground when stones crack down. Black smoke smolders between the columns. Probably they are the ‘columns’ of the temple once flourished but corrupted, the temple in which Modigliani desired to reside.
(Translated by the author)

* Images from "Modigliani et le primitivisme", catalogue de l'exposition (Nihon Keizai Shinbun Inc., Tokyo, 2008).

Related Exhibition

"Modigliani et le primitivisme"
26/Mar/2008 - 09/Jun/2008
The National Art Center, Tokyo

Last Updated on November 11 2015

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