Kimbell acquisition: Modigliani masterpiece back in Fort Worth

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A sculpture considered a modern masterpiece has been given to the Kimbell Art Museum by the heir of a wealthy Fort Worth oilman.

The piece known as Head is a carved limestone bust created by Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani, a contemporary of Pablo Picasso.

The piece was given to the Kimbell by Gwendolyn Weiner in honor of her parents, Ted and Lucile Weiner, who were Fort Worth art collectors and philanthropists whose fortune came from oil drilling and production.

“This is one of the most significant gifts the Kimbell has ever received,” said Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell. “I will be forever grateful to Gwen Weiner for her extraordinary generosity, which will enrich the visitor experience at the Kimbell Art Museum for generations to come.”

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The Kimbell is the only museum in the western United States with a Modigliani sculpture in its collection, said Kimbell officials.

Modigliani (1884-1920) is best known for his paintings of portraits and nudes in a style characterized by elongated faces.

Born into a Jewish family in Livorno, Italy, he attended art school in Italy and then moved to Paris in 1906, where he became part of the avant-garde movement that included Picasso and Constantin Brancusi.

In the later years of his life, he was devoted to sculpture and continued to create human figures in that medium.

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The Kimbell’s collection of modern works includes paintings by Picasso, Henri Matisse and Pieter Mondrian. This is the first work of Modigliani to become part of the Kimbell’s collection.

Modigliani had limited success during his lifetime but after his death at age 35 of tubercular meningitis, the popularity of his works began to soar.

Although there is no dollar value attached to the gift, a Modigliani bust sculpture sold at auction in 2014 for $70.7 million, Kimbell officials said.

Modigliani was known for scavenging limestone from construction sites, including the Paris subway, for chiseling his signature elongated heads with slender necks and features such as almond-shaped eyes and small round or smiling mouths, Kimbell officials said. His distinctive style is known to have been inspired by the works of artists in Paris as well as African, Egyptian, ancient Greek and Cambodian statues he had seen.

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Kimbell officials said there are only 27 known Modigliani sculptures, and this one is considered to be one of finest. The piece was believed to have been created in 1913.

Kimbell officials said the Weiner Head is distinct from others for its “complex balance of brutality and refinement, as the delicate head emerges from the roughly hewn mass of the stone block. The lively and varied surface celebrates the process of its creation: blunt gouges and sensual striations of the sculptor’s chisels mark the tapered neck and head, countered by the sharp incisions of the hair and more refined finish of the oval face and cheeks. Its expressive sophistication reveals a sculptor at the height of his talents.”

The Weiners were known for their personal collection of modern art, particularly sculpture, mostly purchased in the 1950s and 1960s. The extensive collection included pieces by Picasso, Moore, Edgar Degas, Alexander Calder, Jacques Lipchitz and Jack Zajac, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

The Weiners purchased the Modigliani Head from the Knoedler Gallery in 1963, Kimbell officials said.

Some of the Weiners’ larger pieces were placed in the 6 ½ – acre garden surrounding their modern-style Ridglea Hills home designed by New York Edward Larrabe Barnes, historical association said.

The Weiners provided several pieces to the small art exhibition assembled for President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Fort Worth on Nov. 21, 1963. Among the works they provided were Picasso’s Angry Owl, Franz Kline’s Study for Accent Grave and Henry Moore’s Three Points.

In the late 1960s, the Weiners bought a home in Palm Springs, California, where they spent most of the last years of their life. The family’s Fort Worth home was sold in the early 1970s, several years before Weiner’s death in 1979, according to the historical association.

Gwendolyn Weiner of Palm Springs inherited the art collection. Some of the most important pieces have been on long-term loan to the Palm Springs Desert Museum, the Museum of Texas Tech University and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, according to the association.

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