Docent Profile: Ann Moss on Modigliani's "Head" in the Barnes Collection

Docent Profile: Ann Moss on Modigliani's "Head" in the Barnes Collection

Mezzanine Left, Barnes Foundation

Ann Moss, a docent at the Barnes Foundation for nearly six years now, began her pursuit of a Barnes education after hearing an ad on WHYY. She signed up for a two-day workshop with Senior Instructor John Gatti and loved it. “I wrote one of my best poems in an exercise John led,” Ann told me. “He encouraged me to try the one-year course and I was hooked. In addition to meeting interesting people and making some good friends, the best part of my Barnes educational experience was that all our classes were in the Collection Gallery, affording us access to look closely at the artworks we were learning about.”

“At the end of my second year, a call for docent applicants went out, and my first reaction was, ‘How exciting to volunteer during an historical time of transition,’” when the Barnes was planning its new Philadelphia building. “What I didn’t expect was how much I’d actually enjoy being a docent. And how much I’d get back in return. You get to share with visitors a mutual love of art and this particular collection. You get to both teach and learn from others’ insights. And you get to see anew pictures you’ve looked at hundreds of times through others’ eyes. With this kind of reward you can’t help wanting to learn even more about the collection, the artists, and the historical and social contexts in which the artists worked.”

Ann was recently interviewed by veteran arts journalist Jim Cotter for his WHYY television show, Articulate with Jim Cotter; they discussed Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920). There are 16 works by Modigliani at the Barnes, including Head, the sculpture that was the focal point of Ann’s interview with WHYY. I caught up with her to find out what she learned about Head and Modigliani. 

Modigliani's Head

Modigliani’s entire body of work consists of 400 pieces, including 28 sculptures—26 of which are heads. The rarity of Modigliani’s sculpture draws visitors from around the world to see Head at the Barnes.

“Modigliani’s Head is a treasure you can easily overlook when visiting the Barnes,” Ann said. “It’s located on the mezzanine level, a space that’s usually unoccupied. I rarely run into people there. But on one occasion I was looking closely [at the sculpture] in preparation for the WHYY shoot, and as if written into a script, two couples arrived, each on a purposeful pilgrimage to see our Head. The [couple] were also planning to see other sculpted heads by Modigliani that are nearby—in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Princeton University Art Museum.”

“I also learned how fragile Modigliani’s limestone is,” continued Ann. “After I noticed that the sculpture looked like it had been broken at some point I followed up with conservation staff here at the Barnes, who then x-rayed the piece.” Senior Director of Conservation and Chief Conservator of Paintings Barbara Buckley and Senior Conservator of Objects Margaret Little revealed that Head had indeed been broken and that a support rod now holds the sculpture together—though we still don’t know when the work was broken and repaired. 

In the course of researching Modigliani’s sculpture, Ann found this photograph of French art dealer Paul Guillaume, circa 1918, in his Paris apartment; some of the Modigliani works seen behind him are now in the Barnes collection. 

picture from "Modigliani, Beyond the Myth," a catalogue for The Jewish Museum, New York

“What a thrill to see the Barnes sculpture on the far left side of the mantle in the background, along with a Modigliani painting now hanging in Room 21, The Pretty Housewife, of 1915,” Ann said.

Most people know Modigliani for his portraits, which were influenced by Paul Cézanne (1839–1906). Cézanne made a series of portraits featuring a model wearing a red vest—one hangs in Room 1 at the Barnes Foundation. “Legend has it that whenever Cézanne’s name was mentioned, Modigliani would pull a reproduction of one of Cézanne’s Boy in a Red Vest portraits from his pocket and kiss it,” Ann said.

Cézanne's Boy in a Red Vest (Le Garçon au gilet rouge)

Cézanne’s influence on Modigliani is apparent in Ann’s discussion of their respective portrait styles; take, for instance, Cézanne’s portrait of his wife and Modigliani’s Girl with a Polka-Dot Blouse:

Cézanne's Madame Cézanne (Portrait de Madame Cézanne)

Modigliani's Girl with a Polka-Dot Blouse (Jeune fille au corsage à pois)

“The woman in Modigliani’s portrait looks straight on, with her hands resting in her lap. She is in a Cézanne-esque space with vertical and horizontal accents in an ambiguous background,” Ann said. “In both of these portraits the figures are tilted slightly. I think Modigliani was sensitive to Cézanne’s portraits, but simplified the space and flattened the forms. His portraits are far more decorative than Cézanne’s.”

To learn more about Modigliani's Head and his other works in the Barnes collection, catch Ann’s Articulate with Jim Cotter interview on WHYY in February 2016 and schedule your own docent-led tour at the Barnes today  it is the best way to experience the collection. Learn more.

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Image captions:

Header: Mezzanine (Left), Barnes Foundation. Photo © 2015 The Barnes Foundation

Image 1: Amedeo Modigliani (Italian, 1884–1920). Head, 1911–1912. Limestone. 25 ½ x 7 ½ x 9. A249. Photo © 2015 The Barnes Foundation

Image 2: Courtesy of Klüver/Martin Archive. Guillaume in his apartment with sculptures and paintings by Modigliani. 1918. Photograph. Modigliani: Beyond The Myth. New York: Jewish Museum, 2004. Page 200. Print.

Image 3: Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906). Boy in a Red Vest (Le Garçon au gilet rouge), 1888–1890. Oil on canvas. 25 3/4 x 21 1/2 in. (65.4 x 54.6 cm). BF20. Photo © 2015 The Barnes Foundation

Image 4: Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906). Madame Cézanne (Portrait de Madame Cézanne), 1888–1890. Oil on canvas. 36 1/2 x 28 3/4 in. (92.7 x 73 cm). BF710. Photo © 2015 The Barnes Foundation

Image 5: Amedeo Modigliani (Italian, 1884–1920). Girl with a Polka-Dot Blouse (Jeune fille au corsage à pois), 1919. Oil on canvas. 45 1/2 x 28 3/4 in. (115.6 x 73 cm). BF180. Photo © 2015 The Barnes Foundation

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