Léopold Zborowski, the long-suffering dealer of Amedeo Modigliani and Chaïm Soutine (his portrait, above, by Modigliani), tolerated much strange behavior on the part of his clients. He put up, for instance, with Modigliani’s painting a portrait of Soutine on the door of his apartment while he was away. The door painting is below, along with a photo of Zborowski sitting in front of it and one of Soutine in the country, wearing the strange hat he is wearing on the door.
La Cité Falguière
And nothing lasts forever. Now Chaïm is sitting
for a portrait. Modigliani’s bellowing off-key.
The mock bravura here is altogether fitting.
“Let’s do another one.” “On what?” “Zborowski’s
door!” “Oh no, Zborowski thinks I’m lousy.”
“Nonsense. Léopold runs on-and-off.
He’s like that. But he’d never count you out.”
Modigliani tosses back his hair
and lifts the finished portrait of his mousey
protégé, the dealer’s pied-à-terre
a ready studio now that Jeanne and baby
have moved in at la Cité Falguère.
And he’s not kidding about the door—if maybe
about the dealer. Sketching Chaïm, he sings
an aria. He looks like he has rabies….
eyes alight upon the palette knife
and on Zborowski’s door. “Soutine, she’s pregnant.”
“What? Again?” “We bring another life
into this world, Soutine. Another remnant
of our own.” “But isn’t one enough?”
Modigliani is disheveled, silent
as he works. He finally answers, “No.”
Soutine, convinced his mentor’s finally had it,
slumps. The months ahead are very rough,
the door of little consequence. “I’ll add it
to the pile,” Zborowski says the night
he kneels beside the deathbed of the addict.
Charcoal shadows in an amber light
attend the death of Amedeo Modigliani.
“Everything’s in order, it’s all right.
Berthe’s taking several portraits, and I
have the rest secured. There’s noting due …”
“Léo. Thank you. Thanks for everything,” he
answers. “And I leave everything to you.”
There is no question he himself will vanish
with the dawn. Zborowski whispers, “What am I to do?”
“The work is finished. All that’s passed between us
is accomplishment, for good or ill.
Beyond that, I will leave you with a genius.”
Zborowski’s eyes run over all the still-
wet canvases, Modigliani’s last,
and settle on a door torn from his sill.
By Tuesday morning there’s a death mask cast
in plaster and a wind-blown curtain through
which Jeanne, with child, a suicide, has passed.