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.
Analysis of Modigliani’s Woman with Red Hair
Woman with Red Hair is an instance of Amedeo Modigliani’s soft 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 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.
Amedeo Modigliani’s Portraits
Amedeo Modigliani was an Italian artist known for his distinctive style of portraiture. Modigliani’s portraits are characterized by their elongated forms, flattened features, and simplified lines, which give them a sense of stylized elegance and mystery.
Modigliani’s portraits often feature elongated faces and bodies, with long necks and tapering limbs that seem to stretch out beyond the limits of the canvas. These elongated forms are often emphasized by the artist’s use of line, which is fluid and curving, with a sense of rhythm and movement that seems to flow through the entire composition.
The faces in Modigliani’s portraits are also highly stylized, with simplified features that suggest a sense of anonymity or universality. The eyes are often almond-shaped and slightly tilted, while the nose is reduced to a simple line or curve. The lips are usually full and pouty, with a slight curve that suggests a sense of sensuality or mystery.
Despite their stylization, however, Modigliani’s portraits are not lacking in emotion or personality. The elongated forms and simplified features allow the artist to focus on the essential qualities of his subjects, capturing their unique character and spirit in a way that is both striking and timeless.
Many of Modigliani’s portraits also feature a strong sense of color, with bold, expressive strokes of paint that suggest a deep emotional intensity. The artist often used a limited palette, with colors ranging from rich, deep blues and greens to warm, earthy tones of yellow and ochre. These colors are often juxtaposed with each other in surprising and unexpected ways, creating a sense of visual tension and excitement.
Modigliani’s portraits were often of women, and his depictions of the female form are highly sensual and alluring. The elongated forms and flowing lines of his figures suggest a sense of grace and elegance, while the subtle curves and full lips convey a sense of sensuality and desire. Many of these portraits were also marked by a sense of mystery, with the subject’s eyes often downcast or obscured by their hair, adding to the enigmatic quality of the work.
One of Modigliani’s most famous portraits is “Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne” which depicts the artist’s lover and muse. The painting is notable for its use of color, with the warm, earthy tones of the figure’s skin contrasting with the cool, blue background. The elongated forms and simplified features of the figure give it a sense of otherworldly beauty, while the subject’s downcast eyes and pensive expression add a sense of mystery and intrigue.