Italian-born Cubist painter, Amedeo Modigliani 1884-1920 and the French, Jacques Villon 1875-1963, both painted vibrant and expressive portraits during the early twentieth-century.
In this case, the chosen portraits are Modigliani”s “Portrait of Mrs. Hastings”, 1915 and Villon”s “Mme. Fulgence”, 1936.
Both of these compositions are portraits.
Nothing is of more importance than the sitter herself. The female sitter in Modigliani”s piece, sits in an almost dizzying pose with a twist in her elongated neck a Modigliani trademark, a stylized and mask-like head and a columnar neck. All of which give the sitter a blank and ashen expression. She looks at the viewer, head-on with a most piercing air in her eyes. In Villon”s case, his female sitter has been created solely with the use of layered colours and a very random synthetist outline technique a similar technique the post-impressionist painter Gaugin used.
Modigliani outlines his figure moreso in black than Villon. Mme. Fulgence”s age is understood by the strong dynamic colour quality that has been used to break her face apart. In a way, these colourful divisions act as wrinkles. For instance, the chunk of layered pink on her lip creates a scowl and the heavily applied white on her nose helps it to seem upright; a “snobbish” upturn. Colours such as the orange, have been used to highlight her left cheek and only visible ear.
With these effects, the viewer sees Mme. Fulgence as a very proper and”posh” if you will woman. Bitterness is only a common linkage with the other attributes. Modigliani”s Hastings on the other hand seems to be an intense woman of a compassionate nature. Both of these pieces have relied heavily on the expressive and wild use of colour to create emotional expressions and unerring form.
Both of these portraits are created using oil paints–Modigliani”s on cardboard and Villon”s on canvas.
The most important element that draws their work away from the mainstream is their heavy application of paint. Although they both apply their colour liberally, Modigliani”s strokes are thick, jagged, and for the most part random. His brushstrokes are also particularly long, whereas Villon”s are short and brief. Modigliani uses monochromatic hues of red to create the prominent colour of the piece and like Villon, he has used a very vague background to express the importance of his sitter.
Colour is of equal importance in both pieces as it draws the viewer in and allows the viewer”s eyes to be brought around the piece. Modigliani has split his background from top to bottom, using red and strokes of burnt sienna at first, then an auburn and deeper red for the bottom. This definite split in the background creates a base so that the chair on which the sitter is seated does not get lost and mistaken for part of the background.
The weighty application in both portraits creates a brilliant textural finish. The expressive nature that is brought out in the quick brushstrokes is equally defined in the actual texture of the painting plain. In Modigliani”s background, the strokes are long and applied at a rapid pace. Whereas in Villon”s background, his strokes are shorter and seem to have more of a planned location just as Seurat applies his paint.
Villon has placed his subject in front of the background in an almost symmetrical manner. This poses the idea that the two really do not have an intense relationship whatsoever.
The “Madame” is not quite centred to look at the viewer dead-on as Modigliani”s is, her body is shifted slightly to the left. Modigliani”s sitter, on the other hand has been placed carefully on her foreground, off to the left. This brings in ample space for the chair. Having his subject seated, Modigliani says more about the subject”s surroundings.
Villon has merely placed Mme. Fulgence in front of a green background, with only the highlights of her age to carry one through the piece.
As stated before, the negative space that is prevalent in both pieces is highly effective as it does not take away from the issue at hand: the seated.
Both artists have used the application of their colours to their advantage in creating emotion merely through its use. Whether the colours are blended like Modigliani or choppy and difficult to ingest for the colours are used at their most vibrant tone as Villon”s are, both artist”s used an extreme colour palette to bring forth the ideal emotions and/or physical standing of their models.