The subject is a young Gypsy woman with her baby. This portrait is of the expressionism style and is typical of Modigliani’s work.
As one of his last portraits; painted the year before his death, Gypsy Woman Holding Baby is one of the paintings that support the claim that Modigliani was, perhaps, the finest portrait artist of the twentieth century.
To the layman, there is nothing remarkable about this picture, just a rather plain looking young woman in unflattering clothing and set in drab surroundings. To the art connoisseur, however, this is a unique piece of work in the iconic style that Modigliani developed during his short career.
Expressionism is a style of art which emerged in the early 20th Century in Germany and France, as a breakaway from the aesthetic conventions of the Impressionist style. Expressionists reject the fundamental rules regarding the visual replication of nature, in favour of expressing their inner emotions. Expressionist art does not try to portray the subject in its true-to-life form.
Instead, exaggeration and distortion of shapes, outlines, and colours are used to reflect the inner feelings of the artist.
Modigliani’s paintings were mostly portraits, and he was revolutionary at the time with his uninhibited depictions of nude women. Modigliani portrayed his subjects with elongated, flat, mask-like faces with oval eyes, pursed lips and an expression of indifference, on disproportionately long necks; this was his signature style, influenced by the work of the Romanian sculptor, Constantin Brancusi as well as African art.
While Gypsy Woman with Baby was a more modest portrayal, Modigliani captured the spirit of his subject’s character.
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was an Italian Jew, born in Livorno, Italy, in 1884. His father, Flaminio Modigliani was a financier, but when he was declared bankrupt, the family was reduced to a life of poverty. The young Modigliani suffered ill health in the form of pleurisy and tuberculosis.
Modigliani received a formal education as a life painter and became infatuated with nudes. Later he turned against the bourgeois, academic style of art. He moved to Venice where he started smoking hashish and taking narcotics. Modigliani died in 1920 of tuberculosis.