Poor Amedeo Modigliani, what a tough life he led. I’m thinking this as I climb the steps to his last studio in Montparnasse. It’s a classic artist’s garret with peeling paint and poor lighting, and climbing the countless floors on a narrow stone tread, leaves me winded. It wouldn’t have been easy for a man with advanced tuberculosis. With Tate Modern about to stage its Modigliani exhibition, I’ve come to number 8 Rue de la Grande-Chaumière, his final home before he died tragically young in 1920. At 35, he wasn’t just a victim of TB, but was suffering the toll of a lifetime’s enthusiasm for alcohol and drugs.
Political journalist Monia Kashmire and her chef husband Nicolas Derrstoff now live here, and I’m about to try one of their new pop-up dinners themed around dishes from Modigliani’s favourite local restaurant, the now defunct Chez Rosalie. The studio is chic and comfortable, with stripped wooden floors, Tunisian knick-knacks and a partially shaved Persian cat called Jean-Michel Basquiat. Our evening meal is more banquet than artist-on-a-budget, with nibbles and prosecco, baked aubergine, slow-cooked coq au vin and rice pudding topped with rosewater ice-cream. There’s absinthe, too, while Monia, a dead ringer for one of Modigliani’s serene models, regales us with stories. “Modigliani was a great womaniser,” she says. “He once mocked Picasso by asking: ‘Pablo, how do you make love to a cube?’”
To get a feel for his impoverished Parisian world you need to divide your time between Montmartre and the grittier Montparnasse – the latter was where artists migrated for cheap rent. Despite the gentrification, there are still pockets of authentic bohemianism to be found here. Read more