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A life of Modigliani, the man and the artist by Meryle Secrest

Meryle Secrest, Modigliani
Random House Publishing, Marion Ettlinger

"CBS Early Show" anchor Jeff Glor speaks with author Meryle Secrest on a new biography she's written about Amedeo Modigliani, an Italian artist who painted and lived a Bohemian lifestyle at the turn of the century in Paris.

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Meryle Secrest: I was inspired to write the book by reading the other biographies about Modigliani because the more I read, the more I began to think that the real story had yet to be told. The story as traditionally told is of a man who painted incredibly sophisticated canvases in a state of acute toxicity, shall we say, and I just could not reconcile the idea that he was permanently drunk with the results that we now have of his thought processes. There was such a contradiction between the concept of this out-of-control personality and the extreme elegance of his work that I thought I had a puzzle to solve.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

MS: What surprised me most was that I could still find witnesses with stories to tell that had not been told. Usually the gap of almost a century between the death of the subject and the inquiry makes it very unlikely that there is anything new to find. But it in the case of Modigliani, there is a direct link between the son of Modigliani's first collector and Modigliani himself: Noel Alexandre, who inherited his father's archives of letters and his father's memories of Modigliani that shed new light on this complicated personality.

JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

MS: I would be painting portraits! My first subject was an artist who was a portrait painter, Romaine Brooks, an American who made her reputation in Europe and now ten books later I'm still writing about people who paint portraits. I think it's because I always wanted to be a painter of portraits myself.

JG: What else are you reading right now?

MS: I'm re-reading Brideshead Revisited. I am also reading the memoir written by Elsa Schiaparelli.

JG: What's next for you?

MS: My new subject is Elsa Schiaparelli another Italian genius who came to Paris in the 1930's and worked with Salvador Dali. The dresses, the coats, the hats, the shoes, the ensembles that she created during this Surrealist movement are still some of the most extraordinary works ever produced by a dress designer. But of course, she wasn't really a dress designer, she was an artist.

For more on "Modigliani," visit the Random House Website.

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