Amedeo Modigliani (1884 – 1920) immortalized the Spanish landscape painter Manuel Humbert Esteve, a struggling artist whom he met in the ethnically diverse environment of Mantparnasse, in Portrait of Manuel Humbert (1916). In such paintings, he continued to question portraiture’s claim to truth, presenting the genre as ever-ambiguous. Here, he renders the sitter’s head as mask-like, with a narrow, triangular face and stylized arched brows connected to a thin. straight nose. He distinguishes personal features as well — pursed mouth, parted hair — constantly altering the counterpoise of individuality and formal abstraction.
Photographed in the Jewish Museum in NYC as part of the Exhibit Modigliani Unmasked, which Continues Through February 4th, 2018.
The thin stretchers and measuring devices in Giorgio de Chirico’s elaborate composition, The Jewish Angel (1916), combine references to his own profession and to that of his father, who was a railroad engineer. De Chirico lived in Paris from 1911 to 1915, creating melancholy cityscapes that became exemplary for the surrealist movement. When he returned to Italy at the beginning of World War I, he began making paintings of interiors filled with strange objects, such as The Jewish Angel.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Man Ray (Born Emmanuel Radnitzky, 1890 – 1976) became dissatisfied with his initial composition for this work, The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself With Shadows (1916), which was inspired by a tightrope performance he had seen in a vaudeville show. He had originally arranged pieces of colored paper cut into the shapes of the tightrope dancer’s acrobatic forms. Glancing down at the floor, he noticed that the discarded scraps of paper from which the shapes had been cut formed an abstract pattern resulting from chance. Comparing the accidental pattern with shadows that a dancer might have cast on the floor, he incorporated it into his composition.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, an heiress to the Vanderbilt family fortune, was born into tremendous wealth and privilege. She defied social expectations however, by becoming a sculptor and the foremost patron of American art in the early twentieth century — activities which would ultimately lead her to found the Whitney Museum. Mrs. Whitney commissioned this portrait from Robert Henri (1965 – 1929), a close friend and leader of the urban realist painters known as the Ashcan School. Henri emphasized her unconventionality by depicting her reclining in pants and gazing at the viewer with a self-possessed assurance. Indeed, her husband refused to hang the painting in their uptown home, and she instead kept it in her Greenwich Village studio, which would become the first home of the Whitney Museum in 1931.