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Sunday 23 July 2017

Modigliani nudes which shocked audience for showing body hair to go on show at Tate Modern

The Italian-born artist’s depictions of nudes were censored by the authorities during his lifetime.

By Sherna Noah, Press Association Senior Entertainment Correspondent

A series of “spectacular” female nudes which “scandalised” society with their depictions of body hair are going on show at Tate Modern in an exhibition on the artist Modigliani.

The Italian-born painter and sculptor’s depictions of nudes were censored by the authorities during his lifetime.

Impoverished, he died in 1920, aged just 35, from tubercular meningitis.

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Modigliani’s Reclining Nude (Le grand nu). 1919. (New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA))

But in 2015, Reclining Nude fetched 170 million dollars (£113 million) at an auction in New York, setting a world record for the artist.

Around 10 nudes will be shown at the exhibition this autumn, the largest group ever seen in the UK.

The exhibition’s curator Nancy Ireson said “the nudes are crucial to this show”.

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Seated Nude, 1917 (oil on canvas) by Modigliani, (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp)

“We have the most extraordinary selection of nudes that have been seen in recent years and certainly the biggest selection that’s been seen in this country,” she said.

“It’s an absolutely stunning group.

“We know that they shocked people in Modigliani’s time … What was shocking wasn’t that they were nude. Paintings of nudes had been around for centuries. What was interesting was that they had pubic hair.

“And that was seemingly what scandalised a contemporary audience.

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Modigliani’s Juan Gris (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

“This is a moment when body hair is also an issue.

“Women were being told about epilation … all these things that are still very current now. In the 1910s they were even recommending that women use radiation, just to remove hair.

“So the fact that Modigliani puts these women out there, with their pubic hair visible, makes them very timely … All these things that are still very current now.”

She added of the artist: “Modigliani comes from a great tradition of nudes in Italy.

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Beatrice Hastings (1915)

“But these are not the nudes that he grew up with. These are not Renaissance nudes, or rather if they are, they’re speaking a new language.

“That vibrancy, that richness, that reduced palette, it’s almost as if these paintings glow. I think it’s going to be a stunning part of the show.”

In 1917, the artist’s only solo exhibition was censored on the grounds of indecency.

The curator said: “There was a police commissioner living opposite the gallery who saw that the crowds were arriving.

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Head (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Lois Orswell C:President and Fellows of Harvard College)

“They could see one of Modigliani’s nudes in the window … The exhibition had to be toned down. Paintings had to be taken out of the window.”

The nudes will be presented next to other paintings of the women clothed.

“(We will show them) clothed and unclothed. It’s a very simple device,” Ms Ireson said.

“It makes us see these images in a much more powerful way.”

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Jacques and Berthe Lipchitz, 1916 by Modigliani

The women were paid “quite well per sitting” and so “on a similar footing” to the artist.

“In a sense, these women are very bold. They’re not ashamed of the fact that they’re posing.

“They seem to be wearing make-up which is quite controversial at that time.”

Achim Borchardt-Hume, director of exhibitions at Tate Modern, said that he recently watched a programme featuring German 1980s pop star Nena, who, like actress Julia Roberts, made headlines in Britain with her armpit hair.

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Julia Roberts (Ian West/PA)

“So not so much has changed,” he said. “It’s the same as Modigliani. He paints nudes with armpit hair.”

The autumn exhibition will also feature sculptures, landscapes and portraits of fellow artists as well as the mother of his unborn child Jeanne Hebuterne, who committed suicide by throwing herself out of a fifth-floor window when Modigliani died.

Thanks to virtual reality sets, visitors will also be able to “step into 20th century Paris”, recreating Modigliani’s adopted home.

:: Modigliani runs at Tate Modern from November 23 this year to April 2 2018.

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