The Boy

Creation date
oil on canvas
Mark Descriptions
U.R.: Modigliani/Cagnes.
36-1/4 x 23-3/4 in.
Credit line
Gift of Mrs. Julian Bobbs in memory of William Ray Adams
Accession number
Currently On View In
William L. and Jane H. Fortune Gallery - H200

Utilizing the expressive potential of the human face and figure in a highly individual way, Modigliani painted the colorful personalities of Parisian art circles, using elongated forms and shallow interior spaces.

In 1918 the artist's doctor arranged for him to move to southern France to improve his failing health. There Modigliani painted portraits of unnamed young workers. This boy, with his solemn, introspective expression, is one of the finest of this era. The mask-like face and blank eyes are a translation of forms found in African and Archaic Greek sculpture.

Probably from the artist to (Léopold Zborowski [1889-1932], the Polish-born art dealer active in Paris who represented Modigliani. Probably directly to Maurice J. Speiser [1880-1948], a Philadelphia attorney and patron of modernist artists and writers, by 1929; {1} auctioned at (Parke-Bernet), New York in January 1944. {2} Probably purchased by (Theodore Schempp, New York) out of this auction; purchased from him with funds provided by Mrs. Julian Bobbs for the The John Herron Art Institute, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art, in February 1946 (46.22).

{1} The painting is illustrated in: Maud Dale, Modern Art: Modigliani, New York, 1929, as plate 12. The credit line reads: Collection Mr. Maurice J. Speiser Philadelphia. The indexed papers of Maurice J. Speiser which contain correspondence with artists and writers, were given by Speiser's granddaughter to the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. Correspondence in August 2005 with the Director of Special Collections there indicates that there are no letters in the Speiser papers from Modigliani or Zborowski.
{2} Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, Modern Art, Paintings and Sculptures: Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Maurice J. Speiser, January 26-27, 1944, lot no. 45 (ill.).
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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Amedeo Modigliani painted many portraits of his friends and acquaintances during his lifetime, but the identity of this young boy remains unknown. Yet despite his nondescript surroundings and simple attire, the figure of the boy commands our attention. In a pose that is casual, peaceful, and reflective, the young boy sits quietly, gently resting his head on his hand. His masklike face and blank eyes, his imposing scale, and the simplicity of the setting all work together to reinforce the suggestion of a universal type. Only the lively brushstrokes made by the artist with a restricted range of colors enliven this portrait.

Like many artists of his era, Modigliani recognized Paris as an important center of modern art. He left his native Italy for the French capital as a young man. There he worked in an international community of painters and sculptors who took their inspiration from each other and from the wealth of objects in the famed museums of the city. The elongated forms and elegant volumes of Modigliani's sculptures and painted portraits reveal the influence of African and Cycladic sculpture. The monumental and grave presence of these sculptures from other times and places left their mark on him-as this late work of 1919 shows.

In themselves, [Modigliani's] paintings demand little explanation. Indeed they impose a kind of silence, a listening.
-Art critic John Berger, 1981