We know from Ludwig Meidner’s memoirs that Modigliani painted and drew Meidner on several occasions. Meidner in particular refers to two oil portraits by his friend, one of which was entitled “portrait of LM” and was exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in 1907.
Meidner records that the “LM” painting went unnoticed at the time. It seems likely that the painting was not sold and, as was Modigliani’s practice at the time, it may well have been painted over. There is no obvious candidate for the other oil portrait amongst known Modiglianis, so no current record of either of the portrait oils exists. Perhaps one day one will emerge from an attic of a Montmartre bakery.
The lack of drawings is more of a mystery. Both Meidner and Modigliani are known to have constantly sketched portraits of friends, fellow artists, writers and musicians and even strangers who just happened to be sitting in the same cafe. Modigliani is renowned at this time for simply giving away these drawings to the sitters or anyone else who requested them. Newly discovered Modigliani drawings do continue to emerge. Similarly, Meidner’s drawings, many carried out in Berlin cafes, amount to a who’s who of expressionist and Dada art and literature. Between them they amassed a large number of portrait sketches. But none of those drawings has been identified to be portraits of each other.
The lack of a Meidner portrait of Modigliani is however not so surprising. We have Modi’s portraits of, for example, Picasso, Kisling and Soutine, but not one single portrait of Modigliani by any of his artist friends. He simply did not sit for other artists. In keeping with that there is no known portrait of Modigliani by Meidner.
On the other hand, a portrait of Meidner by Modigliani would not be unusual. In fact Meidner records being drawn by Modigliani in 1906. So have these drawings, like the portrait in oils, simply disappeared? A quick search through the Modigliani catalogues does not list a portrait of Meidner but I believe they are there, two of them at least.
The first is a portrait of a man with splayed hands, entitled, by Modigliani himself, as “Tables Turned” and which is also known as “Portrait of a Medium”. It is accompanied by a drawing entitled “Woman at a Seance”. These drawings, from the “Unknown Modigliani” collection of Paul Alexandre are dated around 1906 (at the time Meidner was in Paris). For those only familiar with the photographs or self-portraits of the older Meidner (the small, bald man) the similarity with the “portrait of a medium” is not immediately obvious. But comparisons with earlier photographs and, even more revealing, with Meidner’s own early self portraits produces a striking and unmissable resemblance.
The distinctive ears seen in virtually every Meidner self-portrait are here in the Modigliani drawing. The hair, the moustache and the raised eyebrows of Meidner’s own self-portrait oil sketch of 1909 are mirrored in the Modigliani.
In Modigliani’s sketchbook of 1906-07 there are two sketches of a male and female. Although faded, some enhancement of the colours reveals what look to be sketches for the seance drawings. The subjects are certainly similar to the finished seance pictures and again we see what appears to be the distinctive features of the young Meidner.