Reclining Nude with Blue Cushion, 1917 by Amedeo Modigliani

Even if Modigliani's life had been orderly and meticulously chronicled, his paintings of nudes would have been the subject of speculation. There exists in twentieth-century art a thick undergrowth of erotic imagery, from which occasionally a painting may emerge by its own merits to the status of an independent work of art, but very rarely reaches the rank of the genuinely innovative masterpiece of modern art. Modigliani's nudes are certainly works of art. Some of them are masterpieces, but without losing any of their memorable erotic content. To acknowledge this is not to acquiesce in the assumption that Modigliani's nudes are only a visual record of sexual adventures. Despite everything, Modigliani was essentially a painter to the core and his ability to convey erotic feeling professionally, not anecdotally, should not be impugned. His nudes are erotic as those by Titian or Pierre-Auguste Renoir; they are not pornographic.

Certainly the faces of Modigliani's models are individual, and their expressions contribute to the eroticism. Here the painter has rather unkindly given the model not only a shiny nose but a double chin, although her body is otherwise slim. Such features are seldom found in Modigliani's actual portraits. The slimness of the body contributes to the pronounced diagonal of the composition, reinforced by the rather arbitrary way in which the right arm cradles the head while the left arm is kept out of sight. This is the pose of the Giorgione Sleeping Venus, one of the most famous and beautiful of all depictions of the nude, although Giorgione allows the right arm to contribute to the erotic content in a way that Modigliani did not care, or perhaps dare, to show.