7 Intriguing Facts About Amedeo Modigliani on His Birthday

The artist was born on July 12, 1884.

Amedeo Modigliani in his studio, 1910s. Private Collection. Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images.

Amedeo Modigliani is an Italian treasure.

His richly colored portraits and nudes are widely celebrated by collectors and art enthusiasts alike. What’s perhaps lesser known about Modigliani is his brief and exceptionally tragic life.

To commemorate him on what would be his 131st birthday this July 12, we chose to uncover seven facts about the late artist.

1. His birth saved his family from financial ruin.
The youngest of four to industrious Sephardic Jewish parents in Livorno, Italy, Modigliani’s timely arrival spared his family from financial demise. Per an ancient law that protected the beds of pregnant women and mothers with newborn children, Modigliani’s father averted his creditors from pursuing payment by piling his family’s most valuable assets on top of his pregnant wife’s bed.


Amedeo Modigliani. Self Portrait (1919).
Photo: Wikiart.

2. He was an alcoholic and drug addict—but not for the reasons you would think.
At age 11, Modigliani suffered a bout of pleurisy—the first in a string of diseases that eventually led to his early death. In her extensive biography of the artist, Meryle Secrest interpreted his habitual substance abuse as an attempt to conceal his tuberculosis and avoid the stigma attached to the disease. Tuberculosis at the time was incurable and highly contagious, and was a leading cause of death in France. Secrest writes: “Drunks were tolerated; carriers of infectious diseases were not.

3. Modigliani took a cue from Nietzsche on creativity and sex.
According to biographer Jeffrey Meyers, Modigliani’s iconoclastic spirit was inspired by his early interest in Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy. Modigliani refused to identify with the burgeoning art movements of his time and believed suffering was paramount to an artist’s creative growth. His adulation for the German philosopher’s ideology even prompted him to adopt a similar brand of enthusiasm towards sex and its regenerative power.


(From left) Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso and André Salmon.
Photo: M0tty of Wikipedia.

4. His family and friends called him “Dedo.”
Beatrice Hastings, Pablo Picasso and André Salmon are among the numerous literary and artistic figures that orbited Modigliani’s bohemian life in Paris. To those family and friends, he was known by the nickname Dedo.


Amedeo Modigliani. Reclining Nude with Blue Cushion (1917).
Photo: wikiart.com.

5. Though his legacy enjoys immense posthumous success, he led a life of destitution.
The archetypal starving artist arguably owes its reputation as much to Vincent van Gogh as it does to Modigliani. Dubbed a prince of vagabonds, Modigliani endured impoverishment well into his final hours; he was known to exchange works of art for meals at restaurants. Ironically, collector Steven A. Cohen purchased Modigliani’s Reclining Nude with Blue Cushion for a handsome $118 million in 2012—one of the highest prices paid for a painting.


Galerie Berthe Weill leaflet promoting Modigliani show.
Photo: Archives Berthe Weill of Wikipedia.

6. The artist was given a single solo exhibition during his lifetime…and the police shut it down on its opening day.
On December 3, 1917, Modigliani debuted his first and only solo exhibition at Berthe Weill’s gallery in Paris. His show boasted a display of 30 drawings and paintings commissioned by friend and dealer Leopold Zborovski. The artist’s nude figures became the subject of public scandal, and the police shut down the show within hours.


Jeanne Hébuterne.
Photo: Bastet78 of Wikipedia.

7. Modigliani and his lover, Jeanne Hébuterne, died two days apart.
The artist succumbed to his nearly two decades-long battle with tuberculosis at the age of 35. His final lover, Jeanne Hébuterne, then pregnant with their second child, claimed her life two days later. The couple’s surviving daughter, Jeanne Modigliani, would later write a biography about her star-crossed parents.


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