La femme à l’éventail (Lunia Czechowska), 1919
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Girardin Bequest, 1953
La femme à l’éventail is one of the numerous portraits that Modigliani painted of his friend and confidante, Lunia Czechowska. The Livorno-born artist would first meet Lunia at the end of 1916, when an exhibition of his work was being held at a Paris gallery in Rue Huyghens; she probably came to see the show in the company of the exiled Polish poet Leopold Zborowski, a close friend of her husband.
As this latter was at the time fighting at the Front, Lunia would, from 1917 onwards, live for some years with the Zborowskis in Rue Joseph Bara; during this time she became one of Modigliani’s favourite models.
The elongated body and pupil-less eyes are features that are characteristic of Modigliani’s art, with the sitter here occupying the entire length of the canvas.
Painted just before the artist’s death, this work reflects his late style: the palette is one of light colours and the stylisation is taken to extremes, in order to underline the ethereal and melancholic character of the sitter rather than offer a physical resemblance.
The simplified draughtsmanship, shallow pictorial space and the rigorous division of the volumes in different planes, all reflect the influence of Cubism but also of Modigliani’s own exploration of the medium of sculpture in the years 1911-1913.
“Modigliani’s late art goes well beyond that pulverisation of colour into which the experience of early Impressionism ultimately dissolved. Here, there is an often perfect balance between the angelic and decadent sides to the artist’s poetic nature. Colour, form and line… offer what is a most crystalline ‘objective correlative’ of his poetics. One rarely sees painting that is so completely contemporary – contemporary now and, one has no difficulty in predicting, therefore destined to remain so.”