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Amedeo Modigliani and Gaston Longchamp

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884-1920) , courtesy WIkimedia Commons
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884-1920) , courtesy WIkimedia Commons

Paris in the first quarter of the 20th Century was a crossroads for artists and writers from around the world who came to be part of the thriving center of artistic activity and creative thought that had emerged in France’s capital. The cafés of the Left Bank, Montparnasse and Montmartre were the popular hangout for School of Paris artists such as Picasso, Brancusi, Soutine, Chagall, Léger and Modigliani. These artists were friends, neighbors and collaborators, absorbing each other’s stylistic influences and exploring together the avant-garde atmosphere that permeated Paris.

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884-1920) moved to Paris in 1906 from Livorno, Italy. Working alongside the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, Modigliani was influenced by and exchanged ideas with many of the School of Paris artists. His work from this period exemplifies the stylistic cross-fertilization that existed during this period between artists, showing the distinct influence of Brancusi and the Cubists.

Fernand Gaston Longchamp (1894-1986) was born in the United States to a French mother and a Cayuga-Iroquois father. Following the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, Longchamp’s father moved the family to Paris where he set up a studio and a business as a decorator. Gaston apprenticed to his father and became friendly with his father’s artistic circle of friends, including Renoir, Bonnard, Matisse and Modigliani. Through his father’s connections, Gaston worked with Picasso to paint stage designs for the Ballet Russe in 1911, and with Chagall on scenery for Stravinsky’s Firebird. Longchamp went on to become a significant artist and set designer in his own right.

Exemplifying the friendship, artistic influence and exchange of ideas that existed among this group of artists in Paris is Modigliani’s drawing of Gaston Longchamp that we are pleased to be offering in our June 12th auction of 20th Century, Modern & Contemporary Fine Art, Lot 47. Modigliani made this portrait of Longchamp in 1914 and presented it to him as a gift at the Café de la Rotonde on Boulevard Montparnasse. Also present at the café that day was the writer and painter Max Jacob. Accompanying the drawing are two hand-written letters by Longchamp that give us interesting information about the two artists and the portrait itself. His letters tell us that Longchamp gifted the portrait drawing at some point to Renee Friedman, wife of artist Arnold Friedman, and that he regretted doing so as Friedman ultimately sold it.

The drawing itself speaks loudly of Modigliani’s unique style. Around the time this work was created, Modigliani was working on a series of sculptures with elongated features, oval heads and almond-shaped eyes that bore the influence of Brancusi and of African sculptures. We can see elements of this style in this sketched portrait of his friend Longchamp.

Modigliani did not see success during his lifetime, having had only one solo exhibition organized by his dealer Leopold Zborowski in 1917. He died penniless in 1920 at the early age of 35. Today, his work is part of the cannon of 20th Century art and fetches some of the highest prices in the art market. Longchamp moved back to the States in the 1920s and saw success as a theatre and ballet set designer in New York, eventually moving full-time to his farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania where he set up a studio and painted prolifically. He died there in 1986 in relative obscurity. Only a few of his paintings have ever been seen on the market.

For inquiries regarding this portrait in the sale please contact us at 518-751-1000 or

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