March 28, 2011 Amedeo Modigliani Biography Is Subject of Book Discussion

Meryle Secrest Documents Italian Artist’s Turbulent Life

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public Contact: Center for the Book (202) 707-5221

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) was considered the quintessential bohemian artist, his legend almost as infamous as Van Gogh’s. In Modigliani’s time, his work was seen as an oddity: contemporary with the Cubists but not part of their movement.

In a major new biography, Meryle Secrest offers a fully realized portrait of one of the 20th century’s master painters and sculptors: his upbringing as a Sephardic Jew from an impoverished but genteel Italian family, his moving to Paris to make his fortune, his striking good looks, his training as an artist and his influences, including the Italian Renaissance.

Secrest will discuss and sign her new biography, “Modigliani: A Life” (Knopf Doubleday, 2011) in a Books & Beyond program on Friday, April 15, at noon, in the Montpelier Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event is co-sponsored with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden of the Smithsonian Institution. It is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.

“Modigliani” documents the ways in which the artist’s long-kept-secret illness from tuberculosis (it almost killed him as a young man) affected his work and his attitude toward life; how that illness caused him to embrace fatalism and idealism, creativity and death; and how he used alcohol and opium with laudanum as an antispasmodic to hide the symptoms of the disease and how, because of it, he came to be seen as a dissolute alcoholic.

Secrest also illuminates the dynamic Paris where Modigliani lived and how he became part of a life in the streets and a revolutionary world of art and artists such as Monet, Cézanne and Degas, as well as others more radical such as Matisse and Derain, all living within blocks of one another.

Meryle Secrest was born and educated in Bath, England, and now lives in Washington, D.C. She is the author of nine biographies, including books on Frank Lloyd Wright, Salvador Dalí, art dealer Joseph Duveen and art historian Bernard Berenson and is the recipient of the 2006 National Humanities Medal.

Secrest’s “Modigliani” is also the subject of a discussion on Facebook. The new Books & Beyond Book Club is available at Here readers can discuss books, the authors of which have appeared or will appear in this series. The site also offers links to webcasts of these events and asks readers to talk about what they have seen and heard.

Since its creation by Congress in 1977 to "stimulate public interest in books and reading," the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress ( has become a major national force for reading and literacy promotion. A public-private partnership, it sponsors educational programs that reach readers of all ages, nationally and internationally. The center provides leadership for 52 affiliated state centers for the book (including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and nonprofit reading-promotion partners and plays a key role in the Library’s annual National Book Festival. It also oversees the Library’s website and administers the Library’s Young Readers Center.


PR 11-067
ISSN 0731-3527