Woman with Red Hair is a 1917 painting by Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani who was well known for his portraits in the early 20th century. This work is located in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., United States.
Woman with Red Hair is an instance of Amedeo Modigliani’s softly human forms accomplished through stark outlines, a simplistic modulation of shapes, and inexpressive faces. At the same time, we observe the typical fine graining of his pigment. In areas of ostensible uniformity, we realize that multiplicities of tone have been deftly suggested but left inchoate.
It is thus that we enjoy the impression that the Woman’s dress is particularly enlightened in parts, and that patches of her long neck may have a shadow somewhere, to par with the obvious ruddiness of her cheeks. And as we fail to trace our impressions to precise marks on the canvas, we marvel at these suggestions that Modigliani’s touch has fostered through nothing more than single pigments.
The orange crown of hair which gives the painting and its subject their name, as a potentially highly demanding object, has been resolved in a bush-like arrangement of orange and auburn. It would imply an unruly mess on top of the woman’s head were it not for its obvious shape. We have the strange impression that we know exactly what the Woman’s hair is like because of this naturalistic joining of vagrant instability and trained compactness.
Behind the Woman, a saxe blue background splotched with gray calls to mind a badly wiped chalkboard. Its darker stretches, as in the lower part of the painting and between the Woman’s face and hand, appear as if to contribute depth. The clearer clouds, such as around the Woman’s head, may contribute clarity to the nearby orange.
The slender woman is sitting on a chair, wearing her black dress with a sheer collar as she looks our way with her left arm on the backrest. She is in a pose for the painter’s benefit; her face does not communicate a settled emotion; her elongated neck conforms to Modigliani’s enduring vision of women with long necks.
It is a painting denoted by an exceptional orderliness with respect to the entirety of Modigliani’s oeuvre, which is mainly composed of similarly arranged portraits. This accounts for its atmosphere of poise and calm. The simple lines which we observe at its basis, the simple tonalities employed and sustained all throughout, derived from Modigliani’s primitivist conception of form. With this decided idea of the simple and the clear he has been able to defy the call of every major avant-garde of his age, though elements of analytical Cubism are clear to see in some of his portraits — e.g. Portrait of Moise Kisling (1915).
Woman with Red Hair occurred at the height of Modigliani’s productive powers. 1917, the time of its composition, is also the year of the scandalous Paris Show and of Modigliani’s variously posed female nudes achieving notoriety.