You can't get much closer to Italy when you're on the French Riviera than Cagnes-sur-Mer. Maybe this was part of the attraction this particular village held for Modigliani. It was here that he painted Cagnes-sur-mer during the last year of his life.
If this painting by the Italian Amedeo Modigliani looks unusual, there are reasons. The artist renowned for his portraits painted just three or four landscapes. Was he not attracted to the genre or was it that, like sculpture which was his first love, he could not make his lining from it? Another reason is the shape of the canvas; this elongated vertical shape is commonly used for portraits although nude figures are often portrayed horizontally to allow them the better to display themselves to the viewer. Landscapes are often depicted horizontally and seascapes are also horizontal, further elongated to encompass the breadth of the sea. Or we could look at this picture as the portrait of a tree. There is a Modigliani landscape Cypresses and Houses at Cagnes (also painted in 1919) at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Some delicate, atmospheric brushwork cannot disguise the awkwardness of that arrangement whereas in the painting here the tree in the foreground is perched on a knoll overlooking the houses in the little valley. Colors seem bathed in Mediterranean light, light familiar to what Modigliani experienced during his childhho in Livorno.
Renoir had moved to Cagnes in 1907 after he developed a painful case of rheumatoid arthritis. Modigliani wanted to meet the older artist and Renoir's neighbor Anders Osterlind, also an artist, arranged at Renoir's far, one evening. The two should have had a lot to talk about; both artists painted so many female nudes and yet the evening was a failure. Renoir, the ageing master was proud of his paintings, going so far as to tell the young artist that after he finished each nude he stroked the buttocks on the canvas for days. With his patrician background Modigliani found the old man vulgar.
Renoir died in December of 1919 at the age of seventy-eight. Modigliai outlived him by only fifty-three days, dying on January 24, 1920 from tubercular meningitis at thirty-five.
Image - Amedeo Modigliani - Cagnes-sur-mer, circa 1919, oil on cnvas, private collection.