Among Modigliani’s favourite theme, Caryatids stand out because of the number of drawings and paintings dedicated to them. Apart from the damsels adorning the Erechtheion on the Acropolis, Modigliani had become familiar with the Caryatid variations found in the arts of the Hamar or the Guinean Gulf tribes in Africa, thanks to his visits to Paris museums, mainly the Louvre and the Trocadero Ethnography Museum.
Caryatid is a form that evolves: at first, it seems that the gender has little importance and the emphasis is given on the clerical aspect of the silhouette and the apparent serenity of the face. With time, Caryatid will sit, then kneel, until it ends up standing on the one knee only. Shifting the posture will allow the artist to highlight the harmony of the Caryatid’s body, showcasing at the same time the small waist, the curves of the breast, abdomen and thighs, as well as the magnificence of the profile. The model loses its sculptural appearance and is rather related to the African totems, the silhouette of which has always been a symbol of transcending human nature. Caryatid then reveals itself as Modigliani, who would like to be a sculptor, master of the material, but his fragile health forced him to use a pencil and brush, had imagined it.
The version of the Caryatid presented here belongs probably to the last ones drawn by Modigliani around 1914. Worked in pencil and gouache, it reminds both of her Greek sisters with the elaborate hair and of her African cousins, with their silhouettes being an ode to fertility and faces very close to the mask. The flesh is highlighted with extremely realistic colours; however, the coolness of the blue areas around it turns it into an idol. This form full of curves, mounted on a pedestal, is neither a woman nor a statue. Although it is obvious that it was drawn fast, feverishly, it seems totally finished and therefore faithful to its creator’s completely personal view and universal symbolic significance.
Paul Petrides, Paris
Alex Reid & Lefevre, London
Lady Baillie, London
Private collection, since 1971
London, The Lefevre Gallery, XIX and XX Century French Paintings, September - October 1956, no. 6, ill.
London, The Lefevre Gallery, XIX and XX Century French Paintings, 4 - 27 November 1971, no. 14, ill.
Andros, Museum of Contemporary Art, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Glancing at the Century, 28 June - 20 September 1998, pp. 62-63, ill. p. 63
The Studio, vol. 152, no. 765, December 1956, p. 189, ill.