There are two kinds of portraits – external and internal, one is – oriented on facial features and the other in contrast is oriented on representation of the personal soul (on the inner world) of the model. The first type of portraits are dedicated to the analysis of external or the surface features of the face, while the other type is portrait of personal soul or that of the inner world. The first type are “realistic” portraits. And the second are surrealistic or expressionistic or other kinds of – “mystic” portraits.


Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Jean Cocteau, 1917

Already in this sketch of Cocteau Modigliani structures his face inside depth – emphasizing the head even more than face but accents not just the “architectural” bones of his head but the protrusion of Cocteau’s face which is, as if, oriented on seeing the world as far and as deep as possible. His “geometrical” forehead, as if, opens up a space for thinking, while the wrinkles marking the bridge of his nose organize his over- concentrated attentive eyes filled with sadness instead of curiosity.

Cocteau’s narrow cheeks are apparently not for smiling or eating but are rather positioned for saying something encouraging, for kissing or, more exactly for consoling a lonely soul. His lips are chaste. They’re retreating from communication, verbal or sensual. They’re an accompaniment to Cocteau’s visual field, sight – they’re, as if, part of what he sees, what has caught his attention and is of importance.

In a way, Cocteau’s face in Modigliani’s sketch is not only gentle but that of a “cautiously introvert”. It is not proclaiming or “shouting himself” into the world. It is expressing itself delicately, as if, in “silent coloration”. Cocteau’s image by Modigliani, as if, only starts to be noticed in the world. In a way, Cocteau’s face here is like that of a newborn. Its potentials are not completely discernable, but the sketch makes it deep and substantial. The difficult part here is that Cocteau – like Modigliani is an artist. And to depict the face of another artist means to try to show not only the surface, not only artist’s moods and character but their mutual encounter with the world as both artists feel and understand it. This means that the painter’s world is not just encounter with that of another painter’s, but a recognition and acceptance of a mutuality between one another and a mutual participation in their reciprocal creativity.


Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Jean Cocteau, 1917

In Modigliani’s stylized painting of Cocteau the enriching representation of his face in earthy tones is something like “tormentingly” dark color – we see how the coloration insists on joining the surface of Cocteau’s dark-sad face with a touch of dirtied despair. Look closely at the ambiguous shades under his cheekbones and above his eyebrows.

The question of the model’s eyes is universally demonstrable. But Modigliani being the real champion of emptying the eyes of his models – of showing their eyes without pupils. How can it be? Why should the viewers at the museums see Modigliani’s paintings of models without eyes (that could see the world and for that matter the viewers!) The really fascinating issue here is how important is the absence of pupils for the mass-cultural perception of art. The audience doesn’t want to see the “blind ugliness” of the models, see crippled people on the museum walls. They don’t want to look at a beautiful women with – irresistible bodies that are crippled. I can perfectly understand their frustration – depriving them of seeing visual perfection. But, for god’s sake, can you try to control your consumerist reflexes?! The absence of pupils is only symbolic conventionality. It’s a metaphoric (indirect) depiction of imaginary representation of artistic versatility – it’s not registration of human deprivation. The artistic point here is to emphasize that Modigliani’s models without pupils show to public that their interest is not in seeing who is looking at them! Their business is to be observed, not searched! Can you give them this one privilege? Empty gaze of Modigliani’s models doesn’t mean being empty. It means to allow the models to be present and seen, to be observable, to try to give public visual satisfaction, not to satisfy themselves visually. In other words, Modigliani’s models simply don’t need to look and to see. They exists to be looked at and seen, period. They enjoy to be looked at and being seen.

In short, Modigliani’s models without pupils or Picasso’s models’ distorted faces and bodies are not hospitals for the crippled and doomed, but a chance for art viewer-audience to… enjoy the aesthetic paradox of beauty and happiness of the human physical, mental and spiritual potential in new light. Where you see cripple-ness you have to see the beauty of human flesh and concentration of the human spirit. For example, you have to feel and “crack” the irresistibility of Modigliani’s models exactly where you see the absence of habitual – naturalistically flat beauty or you have to overcome the “deficits” of Picasso’s faces by completing their magic in your own imagination. To get artistic pleasure you have to… discover beauty, not to consume it like chicken or turkey leg. There is a kind of beauty which is created by the taste and power of god. We admire god’s craft and his generosity by sharing it with us human beings. But god is much more generous than we expect from him – god also shares some degree of his own supernatural capacities with us. He created talented and gifted artists. People like Modigliani, Picasso, Cocteau are among them. Is it possible to say that human beings like them are carriers of god’s gifts to us? Are they mediating between god-the-creator and those of us who yearning to receive and invest in these gifts?

Modigliani’s and Cocteau’s friendship was not so much a personal alliance as it was an impressive relationship of creative mutuality. Modigliani was born five years earlier than Cocteau and died in 1920 at the age of 34. Cocteau lived until 1963 and died at the age of 74. Modigliani made many portraits and sketches of Cocteau while Cocteau couldn’t reciprocate Modigliani’s attention perhaps due to Amedeo’s early tragic death. At Amedeo’s gravesite Cocteau said – “With His death France lost its elegancy”.

It’s difficult to stop looking at Cocteau’s sketches, preparations for the paintings and his own impressions of Modigliani’s work and his thoughts. Reading and trying to understand not only Cocteau’s character and his life at different periods but his creative style and stance vis-à-vis the world we see how people like him lived in their creative dedication. Why Cocteau suffers so intensely? Because of his homosexual involvements and tormenting aspects of their realization? Or is it because in periods of agony he surrendered to drug addiction which seduced him into moments of happiness while leaving him with a deadly emptiness? Or because of the uncertainties connected with his creative inspirations and his deadly doubt about his talent that almost every creative person endures? Or the monstrous feeling that the public somehow doesn’t understand his creativity?

The greater and the more talented an artist is the more problems torments him – today’s American artists suffer much less because they very quickly give themselves to conformist entertainment, money-making and the necessity to “survive by any price”. Modigliani’s tragic poverty during his short life was very well known. Psychological power and spiritual generosity of artists like Modigliani and Cocteau irradiate in their creativity. Look again at Cocteau’s face polarized between timidity and modesty on the one hand and on the other – the power of self-sustaining and internal strength – the bone structure of his face as an equivalent of an athlete’s muscles.

Cocteau’s endless photos and portraits are in drastic contrast with these two representations of Cocteau offered by Modigliani. These people are God’s agents, friends of human beings.