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Posted at 2:00 PM ET, 02/28/2011

Secrest tackles Modigliani in new biography

By Jacqueline Trescott

Meryle Secrest was fascinated by some of the myths around Modigliani, especially the depictions of his bohemian lifestyle and the circumstances of his early death.

That interest drew her into her 10th biography of artistic personalities--from Salvador Dali, Frank Lloyd Wright, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Bernard Berenson.

Modigliani developed into a detective story. "The theme of 'la boheme' and all of that stuff took hold of my imagination. That life on the Left Bank and how you could be poor and thrive. I went into this looking for a bohemian," said Secrest.

"What I found out with the Modigliani story was not a bohemian story. He was a well-educated man who happened to be penniless and down on his luck. He was not dying of drink and drugs but dying of a horrible disease," said Secrest.

For five years she researched and wrote, producing "Modigliani: A Life." In the meantime, the value of Modigliani's work has skyrocketed. Last November "La Belle Romaine," a painting of a nude created around 1917, sold at auction for $68.9 million. His was one of the paintings stolen from the Museum of Modern Art in Paris last year. Modigliani lived from 1884 to 1920.

"People are reconsidering the view of him as a minor painter," said Secrest who first became enamored of him at the National Gallery of Art. Secrest, who was born in Bath, England, has had a long career as a journalist and biographer. She worked at The Washington Post from 1964 to 1975. In 2006 her award-winning biographies were recognized when she received the National Humanities Medal. She lives in Washington.

For an arts biographer, Secrest has lined up an unusually busy book tour. On March 12 she is speaking at Politics & Prose. On April 15 at the Library of Congress. On May 19 at the Phillips Collection. On June 22 at the National Gallery

By Jacqueline Trescott  | February 28, 2011; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Books, Jacqueline Trescott, Museums  | Tags:  Meryle Secrest, Modigliani, arts biographies, biography of Modigliani  
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It's interesting that Modigliani is/was considered a "minor painter." I never thought of him as such. He was one of my favorite artists when I was in college back in the 60's. Ms. Secrest's book looks interesting.

Posted by: purplemuse | February 28, 2011 10:30 PM | Report abuse

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