Secretive Collector's Private Stock Of Modigliani Works

THE UNKNOWN MODIGLIANI: DRAWINGS FROM THE COLLECTION OF PAUL ALEXANDRE By Noel Alexandre, Harry N. Abrams. 463pp., $75.

PAUL ALEXANDRE was Amedeo Modigliani's close friend and patron from 1907-14. He begged the artist not to destroy even the slightest drawing and bought everything by him that he could. As a result, Dr. Alexandre amassed some 500 drawings. He then guarded them jealously (his own word) for the rest of his life, until 1968.

When Modigliani's daughter wrote a book in 1959 about her father, she described Alexandre as a ``real lover of art who is the joy and despair of scholars.'' The joy because he had kept intact so many authentic drawings from Modigliani's formative period. The despair because of his protective secrecy: She complained that he had never allowed the drawings to be reproduced, and that ``the most he will allow ... as an exception, is a rapid and furtive glance into a barely opened portfolio.''

Alexandre did allow 11 drawings from his collection to be published in Franco Russoli's ``Modigliani Drawings'' of 1969. But although Alexandre was well known as the subject of several Modigliani portraits, his collection remained hidden. He planned to write a book about his friend himself but never did. He was critical of inaccuracies in other books, however, and believed that Modigliani's reputation had been wrongly subjected to repeated mythmaking.

For 25 years after Alexandre's death, though some drawings were dispersed, most have remained hidden - until now. Alexandre's historian-son Noel has at last compiled a handsome volume reproducing 450 of the collection's drawings, plus a biography based on his father's memories.

One reason for Alexandre's reluctance to allow public exposure of his collection was a fear that it would encourage even more fakes of Modigliani drawings. Publication of so many unquestionable drawings ought to provide a reliable benchmark. The Alexandre collection drawings reveal an artist of confident and experimental modernity and help to fill out our picture of his achievement.

Drawing was the essence of both his paintings and his small oeuvre of sculpture. What Paul Alexandre told his son about Modigliani's sculpture also applies to his drawings: ``All of his [sculptures] ... are in effect the same statue started over and over again, as he tried to achieve the definitive form - which I believe he never attained. He never abandoned an idea....''

An exhibition of drawings from the collection is traveling to major museums. It is currently at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice (through Jan. 4). The Royal Academy, London, will host it Jan. 17 to April 2, 1994. Thereafter it will be seen in Cologne, Germany; Bruges, Belgium; Tokyo; Mexico;Luxembourg; Montreal; Madrid; Rouen, France; and in the United States in 1995.

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