j u l y 28,  2012

Perusing the Pushkin Museum Facebook page I’ve come across the information that the great Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani was born on July 12, 1884. Let me say in passing that I find this type of educational activity by the museum welcome. I felt an urge to share my impressions of what I had seen a short while ago at the exhibition “Modigliani, Soutine and the Legend of Montparnasse” on view at the Pinacotheque of Paris until September 9, 2012. In addition to the two mentioned artists, on show were works of Suzanne Valadon, Andre Derain, Moses Kisling, Maurice Utrillo and other artists primarily hailing from East European countries, who were active in the art life of France of the early 20th century and who are now referred to as representatives of the Paris School.

Modigliani is, beyond doubt, pivotal to this collection. I for one had a culture shock to see so many signal works by this artist in just one private collection. It is common knowledge that Modigliani has long and by rights been a sought after favorite of every world museum, curator and collector. Nobody is any longer surprised to hear billion-strong sums required if you want to possess a Modigliani. Meanwhile, the artist often had to pay for lunch and a glass of wine at Paris bistros with his drawings for lack of money. I was indeed eager to learn how Jonas Netter managed to amass those gems of Modigliani and other artists. Many pieces from his collection have more than once been published, but it is for the first time that the entire collection is shown to the public at large. As I’ve already said, in Europe exhibitions are made for the people, they are highly informative and accompanied by a good deal of sundry publications. These provided a wealth of information about the personality of Jonas Netter.

Йонас Неттер Very Personal Modigliani

Jonas Netter. 1900 photograph.

Jonas Netter (1868-1946) was a successful Paris agent for well-known trademarks. He was born in Alsace into the family of a prosperous Jewish industrialist. At six he moved from Strasbourg to Paris with his father.

He loved music, was a talented piano player and developed an interest in art when he was 43. When he was drawing official papers in 1915, he saw a picture by Utrillo in the office of the Commissioner Zamaron at the Police Prefecture. Zamaron introduced Netter to the Pole Leopold Zborowski, who had failed as an artist and ventured into art dealership. Their meeting resulted in years-long fruitful cooperation.

Netter was not rich enough to afford buying the Impressionists he saw in galleries and museums. Yet, he started not merely to buy pictures he liked, but to subsidize the then young unknowns, such as Maurice Utrillo, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, Moses Kisling and Andre Derain. He passed money to Zborowski for the monthly upkeep of the artists, renting studios and buying materials, etc. In turn the collector could choose the best works, exchange and resell them. A true businessman, Netter was punctual, reliable and as good as his word. Starting from 1917 he monthly passed 500 francs to Zborowski for Modigliani, and in 1919 the three of them signed an official contract because Zborowski sometimes overlooked oral agreements. This enabled Netter to take every (!) painting done by Modigliani over the month: the contract even specified their number, namely, 12 to 14 works irrespective of size.

Амедео Модильяни. Эльвира в белом воротнике. 1917 1918 гг Very Personal Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani. Elvira with White Collar. 1917-1918

Амедео Модильяни Портрет Сутина Very Personal Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani. Portrait of Chaim Soutine.1916

Амедео Модильяни Портрет Зборовски Very Personal Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani. Portrait of Zborowski, 1916

Амедео Модильяни Портрет Жанны Эбютерн Very Personal Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani. Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne. 1918

Амедео Модильяни Девочка в голубом Very Personal Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani. Little Girl in Blue. 1918

In 1916 Zborowski and his wife Anne, who was in fact responsible for Leopold’s quitting painting and drinking and instead getting down to business, met Soutine. Neither he nor his art interested the Zborowskis, and it was only at Modigliani’s request that they began to promote Soutine. In her book Life with the Painters of La Ruche Marevna wrote about Zborowski’s attitude to Soutine’s works (see “I am so happy as if I were Soutine”). It was not until 1919 that Zborowski signed a contract with Soutine. Due to mutual animosity there were big delays with contract payments, as a result of which the artist lived in dire need and even attempted to commit suicide. So the allocations made by Netter to subsidize Soutine were short of the only support guaranteed to the unrecognized artist. It is noteworthy that Netter appreciated Soutine’s paintings long before the American collector Albert Barnes showed interest in him in 1922.

Netter was not merely a collector and investor, but a guardian angel of destitute painters. In March 1918, when Paris was under German artillery fire and shells exploded here and there to the horror of the few Paris dwellers remaining in town, Zborowski turned to Netter for help. Netter’s money enabled Soutine, Modigliani with the pregnant Jeanne Hébuterne and her mother, Sborowski and his wife Anne to move to Cagne-sur-Mer on the Côte d’Azure. Foujita and his wife Fernande Barry joined them. Although Netter was not the man to cash in on the painters’ wartime hardships, he was not going to engage in charity either: he received 20 Modigliani paintings for the 2,000 francs given for the trip. When Modigliani died in 1920 and Soutine was unable to come to Paris from Céret in the Pyrenees, where he worked on contract with Zborowski, it was Netter who insisted on his coming for his friend’s burial.

While Netter’s relations with Modigliani and Soutine were fairly businesslike and conducted through Zborowski, he maintained warm and friendly relations with Utrillo, thanks to whose works Netter in fact became a collector. Zborowski had been selling Utrillo’s works from 1916, and when the artist’s contract with his earlier art dealer De Louet expired he signed a contract with him in 1918 for a monthly fee of several hundred of francs. Zborowski cooperated with Utrillo up to 1922-1923, until the commencing art dealer Paul Guillaume became interested in Utrillo’s works and organized his exhibition, which brought Utrillo fame and a contract with Guillaume.

Хаим Сутин Автопортрет Very Personal Modigliani

Chaim Soutin. Self-portrait, 1917

Хаим Сутин Девочка в красном платье Very Personal Modigliani

Chaim Soutine. Little Girl in a Red Dress.1928

Хаим Сутин. Рыбы Very Personal Modigliani

Chaim Soutine. Still Life with Fish. 1917

With Kisling, too, Netter had friendly relations, as is attested by the warm tone of Kisling’s letters. The collection boasts excellent works of Kisling, including Netter’s portrait.

Моисей Кислинг Мужской портрет. Йонас Неттер Very Personal Modigliani

Moses Kisling. Portrait of a Man (Jonas Netter).1920

Netter’s cooperation with Zborowski ended in 1930 after an oral agreement had been reached on a 2,000 franc monthly subsidy for the artist Antcher. Zborowski began to break contract terms, after which Netter started to transfer the money directly to Antcher and broke off relations with Zborowski. The latter went downhill and died in 1932.

Vagaries of fate and the importance of concrete personality in history! It’s a pity that human memory is so short and that we know so little of recent events and people (from the point of view of eternity).





L’Essentiel. La collection Jonas Netter. Modigliani, Soutine et l’avanture de Montparnasse. Pinacotéque de Paris. 2012.

Billy Klüver, Julie Martin. Kiki’s Paris: Artists and Lovers 1900-1930. Harry N.Abrams, Inc., New York, 1994

Nadina Nieszawer “Peintres Juifs à Paris. 1905-1939. École de Paris”, Édition Denoël  2000

Pierre Sichel, “Modigliani: A biography of Amedeo Modigliani”, E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. New York, 1967