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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

Italian, 1884 - 1920
c. 1914
Gouache on wove paper, mounted on canvas, mounted on wood panel

55 3/8 x 26 3/16 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Oveta Culp Hobby

Arts of Europe

In the early 1910s, Amedeo Modigliani abandoned painting to concentrate on sculpture and related drawings. Caryatid is from a series of 60 drawings Modigliani made in preparation for a group of monumental sculptures. In these drawings, he transforms the load-bearing caryatid into the quintessential embodiment of someone carrying a burden.

The Caryatid series marks a transition in Modigliani’s style from the Cézannism and Expressionism of his early work to his mature style, in which he assimilated sculpture—Cycladic, Archaic Greek, and non-European, especially African—into his oeuvre. Ranging in scale, color, and medium, all of these drawings depict compressed female figures supporting unspecified architectural structures. Exceptional in its large size and cool hues, this drawing exemplifies Modigliani’s personal idiom of strong linear rhythms, simple elongated forms, and verticality. Perched on a pedestal, the seated caryatid reaches her arms behind her head, which she gingerly tucks into her shoulder. That he produced relatively few sculptures during his career was one of the greatest disappointments of Modigliani’s life. Today, approximately 25 stone and wooden sculptures exist, only one of which is a caryatid. Nevertheless, the style of this series heavily influenced his paintings from 1915 to 1920.