I still cannot quite understand why I am so intrigued by Modigliani and all his fellow Ecole de Paris artists, who together embodied the Legend of Montparnasse. It started when I once came across a picture of his superb lover and muse Jeanne Hébuterne, whose face and captivating look were simply dazzling. The fact that the ill-fated couple are buried just a short distance from where I live, in the legendary Père Lachaise cemetery, has only intensified my fascination.
This exhibition currently showing in the Pinacothèque de Paris, is something I had been impatiently waiting for. Unlike the posters all over the walls of the Parisian metro may suggest, it is not only about Modigliani and Soutine. This is the first unveiling of Jonas Netter's collection to the public. It is Suzanne Valadon - one of the most remarkable French woman painters - and her son Maurice Utrillo who open the exhibition. Also featured are paintings by other artists Netter passionately supported such as Derain, Vlaminck, Hayden, Kisling, Ebiche, Antcher and Krémègne. A very modest and discreet man, Netter was actually one of the greatest pre-World War 2 art collectors. He was one of the very first to show interest in the talents of Modigliani, Soutine and Utrillo and he played a major part in bringing all three of them to light.
Netter was introduced to Modigliani's work by the Polish art dealer and poet Leopold Zborowski and he acquired his first painting in 1915, nine years after the tragic artist's arrival in Paris. He assuaged his passion by frenetically buying as many of his works as he possibly could.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, during Les Années Folles, Montparnasse was home to a generation of destitute foreign artists and writers who had emigrated to Paris, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe. Attracted by its bohemian, inventive environment and its world-famous reputation, they formed one of the greatest and most influential artistic communities of the last century. It became the centre of the Parisian artistic and intellectual scene, with its actors living in poverty and debauchery. Most of the illustrious, brilliant work produced by Netter’s protégés emerged from this frantic and creative climate. As poet Andre Salmon said, Montparnasse was l'asile de la belle et libre complicité, a refuge for beautiful and unfettered complicity.
With over 120 works from Netter's splendid collection now exhibited at the Pinacothèque, the legend is all yours to discover. Modigliani's grandiose Elvire au Col Blanc had not been shown to the public since 1933. Fifteen of his paintings are displayed, the last one symbolically being a portrait of the pregnant Jeanne (Jeanne Hébuterne au Henné), which had never been exhibited before. He died from tuberculosis just a few months after having finished this portrait, she followed him by committing suicide two days later.
The Pinacothèque has granted Netter's greatest wish by uncovering and resurrecting his lifetime collection and making it accessible to all viewers.
The Jonas Netter collection: Modigliani, Soutine and the Legend of Montparnasse – Pinacothèque de Paris – 4 April – 9 September 2012