For the ever-increasing number who discover Modigliani from local museum shows, art appreciation and art history courses, and the mass media, Jeffrey Meyers book will provide a well-written review of known facts about him, some background on a few of his closer friends, the Parisian circle and dealers, as well as a few of his longer-associated lovers. Meyers keeps his focus on Modigliani as a person with sufficient coverage of his work to whet the appetite (perhap) for a better look at those pictures. Nothing is spared to take the Romance out of the terrible life of a person with life-long tuberculosis, who early on in adulthood became addicted to alcohol, absinthe, ether, hashish, opium, and probably a variety of other destructive drugs. With him, it became a matter of drusg or no painting, and so, those who valued or sought for other reasons his pictures, helped feed his habit. Of course, use of these drugs was commonplace in his crowd so that one had to go to excessive excess, so to speak, to be noticed. Modi, as he was known, did become one of these sad figures
Nonetheless, despite never having any success with his painting, he created a unique body of work, distinctively his own among the artists of Paris (though much influenced by great traditions in art and some from the contemporary interest in the primitive, as it was known). He was a portraitist. Never did he veer toward cubism, landscape, futurism, or any of the other fads and fashions (as well as major contributions) of his time.
He was born to a distinguished Italian Jewish family of Sephardic (Spanish-Portuguese) background; while not a scholarly schoolboy, within the family he received a classical education which deeply influenced him. Poetry and literature were lifelong preoccupations of his. After some art training in Italy he came to Paris which remained his desired home for the rest of his life. He was a member, in good standing but never of successful achievement, of The School of Paris, whose foremost figure was his friend Picasso.
A beautiful man until illness destroyed his looks in the last years of life, he was irresistible to woman, wracking up as many "scores" as any of the very lusty band of which he was part; he had a number of longer-term lovers, though none of them were able to establish a monogamous relation with him, the last of whom committed suicide, with his unborn child inside her, the day after he died. Many, many of these liaisons were conducted in one of the many squalid living quarters in which he lived in his perpetual poverty. Still, even to the end, there was no lack of women eager to have him, and no loss of desire in him (though near the end, the flame burned low, flickered and ultimately died). To those who knew him over the years, close friends like Moise Kisling, he was a literate, sensitive, understanding companion when sober and a humiliated, angry, hostile wretch when not. As the years went by, there were ever fewer periods of the former. He died, in physical and mental deterioration, at the age of 35. Almost immediately after, he became salable on the art market and remains an ever more valuable commodity.
One note of caution in reading this work. Meyer does devote a chapter or two to the pictures, and describes some throughout the book. However, what illustrations there are, are in black and white. making it almost impossible to get much from the descriptions. Having read the book away from home, thus without my many volumes with fully colored, often fine reproductions, this frustrated me. If your interest lies only with this book and not the more extensive discussions of a monograph, of which there are some very fine ones, I would suggest you pick up one of the excellent paperbounds which focus on illustrations in color with minimal text. It will make reading a richer experience at little additional cost.