Born in July 1884 in Livorno, Amedeo Modigliani was the fourth child of a Jewish merchant. Of an apparently fragile constitution, he suffered serious health problems from a young age, pleurisy at 11, typhoid at 14 and a severe bout of tuberculosis in 1900. When the doctors held out little hope of recovery, his mother took him for a year of convalescence in southern Italy and Rome. He began to study drawing and painting in 1898 at a local artist's studio while completing his regular secondary studies. In 1902, he enrolled in courses at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence and the following year at the Academy in Venice.
By 1906, he was in Paris - then the "Mecca" of artists everywhere. Living in Montmartre, he made the acquaintance of a young man, Paul Alexandre, who had just finished his medical studies. Alexandre was very interested in art and artists in general and in Modigliani in particular, setting up a studio/house near his clinic, where many of them worked, lived and partied. He became a very close friend of Modigliani and, convinced of his talent, implored him not to destroy a single sketch or study, putting his own meagre resources at Modigliani's disposal, thus providing us with a remarkable journal of process. They often went to the museums and galleries together, visiting the great retrospective of Cezanne at the Salon d'Automne of 1907.
Modigliani admired the work of Toulouse-Lautrec and was conscious of Gaugin and Picasso, but he venerated Cezanne. He was also very taken with Greek archaic sculpture and with the African masks and artefacts that had become very fashionable at the time. In 1908, he showed several paintings at the Salon des Indépendants. Through Alexandre, he met a kindred spirit, Constantin Brancusi. By 1911, Modigliani had his first showing of sculpture at the Salon d'Automne and even declared his intent at one point in 1913 to do everything in marble but his health would not permit it.
Unfit for service, he spent the war years in Paris where Paul Guillaume became his dealer and sole purchaser after Alexandre went to the front in 1914. For two years, he lived in a tempestuous relationship with Beatrice Hastings, a British journalist/novelist. In 1916, the Polish poet, Leopold Zborowski, became his patron and dealer, giving him a daily allowance when his small stipend from Italy ceased due to the war and providing him with a place to work and live.
His first solo exhibition at the Galerie Weill in late 1917 was not commercially successful but was controversial, closed on the first day by order of the police who considered the nudes obscene. That year Modigliani fell madly in love with a 19-year-old art student, Jeanne Hébuterne, who bore him a daughter the following year. They spent most of 1918, very productively, in the South of France with the Zborowskis, returning only late the following spring.
On January 24, 1920, Modigliani died at 35 in hospital in Paris, of tuberculosis aggravated by dissipation, and the Artist has risen to mythical status in death. The pregnant Jeanne, distraught over his death, committed suicide the following day. They are buried together in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Their 14-month old daughter, Giovanna (Jeanne) was brought up in Italy by her paternal grandmother.