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Modigliani’s Nudes

December 10, 2009

They tell you with their stark solitudinous eyes
How much he loved them, women of all kinds,
Black haired, blondes, brunettes, redheads, how much he loved
To stare at them, paint them, take them to bed,
So many nights to make wet with absinthe,
So many colleagues in vice, models
Of dissipation strewn across rumpled linen,
Real women with hair in their armpits
And generous pubes, getting up to casually piss,
Cantilevering a coy hand against a door frame
As they smoked. Even Jeanne who backed out
A window for him or Anna who shared
His brilliance, or any he painted and fucked,
Fucked and painted, scolded, mocked, their outrageous
Perfection sincere artifice like his weeping,
His self-cursed efforts to reform, kindle
A family, shouting Dante in the alleys
As bacilli roamed his brain. Their eyes say love,
But you know it was sex, and more sex, sex
Sometimes maybe as preamble to love, but sex
In the meantime, a binge of the dark other,
The handsome taboo, poor man, sybarite, Jew.
They did it for him. They said schtupping
Let him paint, relieved him of small frustrations,
No clothes, no heat, no food, and torrid rows,
Fought fire with fire, four, five times a day
Because he was obsessed and they were satisfied
Only a short while, spoiled, used to it,
Even the whores taking care of him for free.
It was unabashed madness, all wrong with all,
And if he’d lived he’d never have lasted.
He had to succumb to filth just to keep
His romantic reputation. He spread beauty’s legs
To bless it, sacrificed himself for the sake
Of creation like Dionysus, became with each nude
Dumb cliche, a shooting star, a fresh cut rose,
A pig in her mud, and out of unctuous sweat,
Those indiscriminate moans came not art but death,
And like a lover who wades into pants as
He lets the door click shut, he was gone, his scent,
His voice, his hopes. The paintings stand on their own.

                                                          —David Moolten

42 Comments leave one →
  1. Cynthia Short permalink
    December 10, 2009 10:10 am

    So very powerful and dark. I will have to read a bio of the painter now!
    Your words read aloud reminded me of a painter thickly slashing paint onto canvas, smearing in a kind of violence to reveal an underlying beauty. So good…

    • December 11, 2009 5:55 pm

      Thank you Cynthia. Modigliani really fits the classic stereotype of the Bohemian artist.

  2. December 10, 2009 10:27 am

    You have vetted my appetite to know more about the painter..

    nature copulates

  3. December 10, 2009 10:37 am

    Well David, you always surprise with a most insightful understanding of your subject. Poetry with obvious thought, consideration, expression of intellect. We all should be so lucky. As always I very much enjoyed your writing.

    • December 11, 2009 6:08 pm

      Thank you Donald. As always, I am grateful for your generous and knowledgeable response.



  4. December 10, 2009 10:59 am

    Beautifully dark. You get into the painter’s mind in this one.

  5. derrick2 permalink
    December 10, 2009 12:15 pm

    Hi David,

    You write in such a compelling way. One almost feels Modigliani’s compulsion, the fire that was consuming him.

  6. poetryaboutart permalink
    December 10, 2009 12:19 pm

    To your great credit, David, you never flinch in your poems (I’ve said that before, I know). Here again is a powerful poem that bores into its topic, that vigorously mines all aspects both coarse and fine. The contrast between the beautiful work of art (the paintings) and the degenerating artist’s life that produces it. The complex relationship (manipulation? rape? complicity?voyeurism?) between male artist and female model and male/female viewer of art. The diction: rough onomatopoeia in contrast with the elegant lyricism of the name “Modigliani.” Compelling.

    • December 11, 2009 6:27 pm

      Hi Therese,

      Thanks as always for the generosity of your response, extensively, insightfully and kindly expressed.

  7. December 10, 2009 12:30 pm

    My favorite lines:

    >> Let him paint, relieved him of small frustrations,
    >> No clothes, no heat, no food, and torrid rows,
    >> Fought fire with fire, four, five times a day

  8. December 10, 2009 1:06 pm

    David, you made me feel like I was in his head…..or at least in his room. It’s a rare thing to transport one into a poem (IMO) but you have most certainly done that here. Beautiful work indeed.

  9. December 10, 2009 1:40 pm

    No clothes, no heat, no food, and torrid rows,
    Fought fire with fire, four, five times a day
    Because he was obsessed and they were satisfied
    Only a short while, spoiled, used to it,

    Such pounding insistence.

    He spread beauty’s legs
    To bless it, sacrificed himself for the sake
    Of creation like Dionysus,

    Very nice appreciation of the artist’s religious impulse in what others will see only as debauchery. And in the end:

    The paintings stand on their own.

    As magnificent as the swirling, pounding psychology that that drove Modigliani to this art – or informed it – the art must always stand on its own two feet, free of the psyche that spawned it. The sex, the licentiousness only a footnote to an artefact that others for generations will absorb into their own psyche’s, having read the footnotes or not.

    The poem is very strong and compelling without its last sentence, but even stronger with it.

    Very well done!

    • December 11, 2009 6:12 pm


      Thank you for your insightful and patient read. I think Modigliani realized (too late) what was happening, and really tried to change with Jeanne.

  10. December 10, 2009 3:36 pm

    nicely done David….dam you got in this painters head for sure….thanks for sharing this

  11. viciousorvirtuous permalink
    December 10, 2009 4:59 pm

    Superb! I love reading your work. The life of the artist vs. the life of the art – one body gone, one body (the nude) standing on its own in history. This poem is very much about body – that an artist also lives the life of the body, exists in the physical as well as inside his/her own head. The compulsion to sex, the compulsion to art – are equal draws to the artist.

    • December 11, 2009 6:25 pm

      Thank you so much Tina. I very much appreciate your insight, and your own work.

  12. December 10, 2009 5:58 pm

    You’ve captured bohemian life with all its squalidness very well. Nothing glamorous or desirable about poverty and drug/sex addiction.

  13. December 10, 2009 6:40 pm

    Terrific, David.

  14. December 10, 2009 7:12 pm

    I love your poem!
    You took me into your perception of Mogdigliani’s space, which is as close as I would care to venture. Your graphic imagery could stand as studies on their own as paintings far more expressive than Modigliani’s because they have names and personas.
    “Cantilevering a coy hand against a door frame
    As they smoked. Even Jeanne who backed out
    A window for him or Anna who shared
    His brilliance.”
    Thanks for sharing this, David.

    • December 11, 2009 6:17 pm

      Thank you Linda. Anna, by the way ( though you may have known) was Anna Akmahtova the great Russian poet (who was his friend (and lover in a moment of weakness, as she was married)).

  15. Irene permalink
    December 10, 2009 8:25 pm

    hi David, I always like coming here because you write so well of painters and painting. You’ve created a vivid Bohemian picture of waste and art.

  16. December 11, 2009 12:14 am

    I have to thank you for introducing me to this painter. I was so moved by your poem that I had to look him up and learn about him and the bacilli that roamed his brain. (I knew it wasn’t syphillis, so of course I had to find out what did him in!.)

    The words how you started with wet with absinthe and ended with wades into pants. I thought how very interesting, moisture, wetness, paint, sex and of course death..

    • December 11, 2009 6:18 pm

      You are so kind. Thank you! Yes, TB was still quite awful then, didn’t really let up until the 40s (streptomycin).

  17. December 11, 2009 1:22 am

    this needs a re read. Lovely line

  18. December 11, 2009 2:01 am

    David, there are such books inside your thoughts! They go deep and landscaped to great detail. I appreciate all that you reveal by your understanding to us, what you allow us also to see of another life.

    One taste from another may have their respective difference, however you open other sights to me that are welcome all the same. Thank you.

    • December 11, 2009 6:22 pm

      Hi Neil

      Thank you so much for your kind remarks. I am similarly enjoying your poetry. My life is not nearly as dark as some of the people I write about.

  19. December 11, 2009 4:24 am

    I have so many favorite lines that there is no point in listing them. Overall, I like the way this poem never flinches from its topic, just drives and drives and drives the point home (so to speak).

    • December 11, 2009 6:20 pm

      Thank you, you are very generous. I tried to be forthright composing this, although it was a difficult and tragic story.

  20. December 11, 2009 9:05 am

    You kept my keen attention throughout the entire poem which is quite a feat given my usual short attention span for longish poems. I loved every bit of it. It had such a consistent feel – moody, real, unforgiving. I feel like “He spread beauty’s legs/ To bless it” just summarizes the whole poem.

    • December 11, 2009 6:28 pm

      Thank you for kind take, and for sticking with the poem. In spite of writing long ones, I too sometimes burn out before the end when reading.

  21. December 12, 2009 3:58 pm

    I could have stopped reading at “And if he’d lived he’d never have lasted.”

    So many wonderful lines set his character and work to play. Nicely done!

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