"What I am seeking is not the real and not the unreal but rather the unconscious, the mystery of the instinctive in the human race". Amedeo Modigliani

One of the superstars of twentieth-century art, Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) is the best known and most loved of all modern Italian painters. Working at the epicentre of avant-garde experimentation in Paris between 1906 and 1920, he developed an artistic vision that was entirely his own. This new exhibition is the first to be devoted to the artist at the Estorick Collection and focuses on Modigliani’s works on paper, showing the spiritual and stylistic development of his portrayal of the human face and form. Modigliani – A Unique Artistic Voice is on view at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art from 15 April until 28 June 2015.

The show comprises some 30 drawings, including many from the collection of Modigliani’s close friend Paul Alexandre, who was also his only patron in the early years, along with other works on paper and paintings from private collections, including that of Eric Estorick. Among these works in crayon, ink and watercolour is the closest known study to Modigliani’s major painting L’Amazone of 1909. His obsessive search for an essential truth and character in his subjects is demonstrated in the successive studies for the painting.

Modigliani drew numerous caryatid figures whose faces are often those of anonymous, androgynous beings. Unusually his Kneeling Caryatid, drawn with blue crayon, shows a human face – most probably a portrait of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, who played a crucial role in his art. For Modigliani, she personified the ancient Egyptian goddesses and dancing princesses they saw together in the Louvre during their brief but intense time together. In her memoir, Akhmatova noted: ‘I thought even then that he clearly saw the world through different eyes to ours’.

This show leads the viewer along Modigliani’s unique artistic path toward his realisation of a humanistic vision of timeless beauty. Visible are the influences of Cycladic, Etruscan, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, African, Asian, Buddhist and early Italian Renaissance art, the underlying universal messages of which Modigliani absorbed into his own imagery. Taking those elements that accorded with his own character and vision, he forged a singular style that side-stepped Fauvism, Cubism and the many other artistic movements of the day.

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884-1920) was born in Livorno, and began his artistic studies in Italy before moving to Paris in 1906. Influenced by a range of genres and art movements, and by primitive art, his oeuvre was nonetheless unique and idiosyncratic. He died aged 35 in Paris.