Arts & Culture

Kimbell Art Museum receives $50 million sculpture ‘crown jewel’

Amadeo Modigliani (1884–1920), “Head,” c. 1913. Limestone
Amadeo Modigliani (1884–1920), “Head,” c. 1913. Limestone

The Kimbell Art Museum has received a rare sculpture by the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani — a gift estimated at nearly $50 million and an acquisition museum officials call one of the most significant in its history.

The limestone work, “Head” (ca. 1913), was given to the museum by Gwendolyn Weiner, the only child of the late Ted and Lucile Weiner, highly regarded Fort Worth art collectors whose collection has been loaned out for decades to the Palm Springs Art Museum. They had purchased “Head” from the Knoedler Gallery in New York City in 1963.

Weiner initiated the Modigliani gift to the Kimbell in February after meetings with Kimbell director Eric M. Lee during the past two years. The work is the sole Modigliani sculpture in the Weiner Collection and many regard it as its crown jewel.

Early 20th-century sculptures, especially those by such artists as Modigliani and Constantin Brancusi, are exceedingly rare and thus extremely expensive. “Head” is one of only 27 acknowledged Modigliani sculptures either in museums or private collections. And now the Kimbell becomes the only museum in a Western state to possess one.

Three years ago, another Modigliani “head” was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $70.7 million. Independent art appraisers estimate the Kimbell’s acquisition to be worth $45-$50 million.

“I’m absolutely over the moon about this gift from Gwen Weiner — easily one of the most important gifts the Kimbell has ever received,” Lee said. “It is such a wonderful thing for the Kimbell, and for Fort Worth in general. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

Modigliani (1884-1920) is known more today for his numerous paintings, but he considered himself a sculptor and championed direct carving in stone, the Kimbell says.

Though the Kimbell is widely respected for the quality of its painting collection, it has no modernist sculptures on display in its galleries, although it does display sculptures by Joan Miro, Fernand Leger, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore on its grounds. So not only does the Modigliani “Head” fill a gap as the first “modern” sculpture to be displayed in the Kimbell’s galleries, but it also constitutes the first work by Modigliani to enter the entire collection.

“What immediately strikes me about this work, which is marked by a rounder as opposed to Modigliani’s more familiar elongated form, is its enormous power,” Lee said. “It’s got mass, evokes archaic sculpture such as a Celtic head, yet its features are wonderfully refined.

“It has a balance of brutality and refinement. It is a very spiritual work,” he said.

Steven Nash, founding director of Dallas’ Nasher Sculpture Center and director-emeritus of the Palm Springs Art Museum, considers the Modigliani head to be one of the greatest sculptures of the early modernist period not only because of its rarity but “because of its stunning internal power,” he said.

“And one of its most fascinating traits is that it emerges from a roughhewn chunk of limestone, but as you get more towards the face, the carving becomes finer and the face is extremely delicate. You really see Modigliani’s hammer marks — working of the stone as a powerful form of personal expression,” Nash said.

“Receiving this work is truly a great day for the Kimbell.”

“Head” went on view Friday as part of the Kimbell’s permanent collection in the north galleries of the Louis Kahn building, where the museum houses its greatest modern paintings by Picasso, Matisse and Mondrian.

Kimbell Art Museum

  • 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth
  • 817-332-8451,
  • Free to view the permanent collection