Tag Archives: Jeanne Hebuterne

Jeanne Hébuterne – Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice

6 Apr

Amedeo Modigliani’s muse and the love of his life was born on 6 April 1898 in Paris. Her delicate demeanor and strange beauty quickly attracted many starving-artists, among them the handsome and charismatic Jewish Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani who turned out to be her great love and eventually the cause of her downfall. The tale of Modigliani and Jeanne’s love is perhaps the most tragic love story in the world of art.

1916. Jeanne Hebuterne at 19 Years, photoPhoto of Jeanne at the age of 19, taken in 1917.

Jeanne Hébuterne met Amedeo around her nineteenth birthday, in April 1917, in the cultural center of Paris at the time – Montparnasse. The two soon fell deeply in love and Jeanne moved in with Modigliani, despite the objections from her parents, strict middle-class Catholics. This is the beginning of the story that ends with death, on both sides.

Jeanne and her older brother André, showed artistic talents from an early age. Despite the conservativeness of her parents, Jeanne was allowed to enroll at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs and to take classes at the Académie Colarossi. The Colarossi was on the Avenue de la Grande Chaumiere; the very center of Montparnasses’ avant-garde culture. What a coincidence that the young Jewish Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, known as ‘Modi’, also lived on that street.Although it was not far from Jeanne’s home, Montparnasse was culturally and ideologically a completely different place; in the context of Jeanne’s strict and sheltered existence in which she had been raised, it was an entirely different universe. At the Académie, Jeanne befriended other female artists such as Chana Orloff and Germaine Labaye who introduced her to Cafe life, particularly at ‘La Rotonde’ where she may have met Amedeo.

Despite her own artistic aspirations, and the fact that she was a proficient painter in her own right, Jeanne’s position as a painter rather than a painter’s muse is often overlooked, as it is the case with many female artist/models. Along with Jeanne, Elizabeth Siddal and Victorine Meurent are one of the best examples of overlooked talents.

1918. Portrait of the Artist's Wife (Jeanne Hebuterne) - Amedeo Modigliani1918. Portrait of the Artist’s Wife (Jeanne Hebuterne) – Amedeo Modigliani

Jeanne possessed a strange beauty which gained her many admirers at Montparnasse. Her eyes were bright blue and her hair was long and auburn. She was nicknamed ‘Noix de Coco‘ (‘Coconut’) due to the shape of her head and her very pale skin. All together her striking features created a ‘gothic appearance’, as it was described by one sculptor who had met her.

Along with her beauty, Jeanne possessed a sedate demeanour and was described as ‘gentle, shy, quiet and delicate. Slightly depressive.‘ With her calmness and youthfulness she was a perfect balance for Amedeo; habitual drinker, drug-user and womaniser who was fourteen years her senior. Due to these contrasts, Jeanne is often seen as a ‘pure girl’ who saved Modigliani. The situation reminds me of ‘Crime and Punishment’ where the pious and self-sacrificing Sonia saved moody Raskolikov. In addition to drawing and painting, Jeanne was known for being musical; she played the violin and she also designed and sewed her own clothes which can be seen in Modigliani’s portraits of her.

It does not surprise me at all that Jeanne was Modigliani’s muse. What other demoiselle, what other face could possibly reveal to us the meaning behind Modigliani’s art?

1917. Amedeo Modigliani 'Jeanne Hebuterne with Hat and Necklace'1917. Amedeo Modigliani – Jeanne Hebuterne with Hat and Necklace

For Modigliani, the future of art was in woman’s face. He painted Jeanne no more and no less than 26 times. Every single one of those portraits is like a love letter: very delicate, lyrical, spiritual and calm. Modigliani painted her lost in her thoughts, distant from reality, place and time, and extraordinary beautiful. Claude Roy said of these portraits ‘Modigliani is speaking here almost in a whisper; he murmurs his painting as a lover murmurs endearments in the ear of his beloved.

Amedeo moved to Nice in March 1918, hoping to sell his paintings to wealthy art experts who wintered there, and that the warm climate would have soothing effect on his fragile health, burdened with heavy drinking and substance abuse. Jeanne followed him, and on 29 November their daughter was born in Nice, out of wedlock. Little girl was named Jeanne after her mother. Although very little is known about their time spent in Nice, it is known with certainty that Modigliani was planing to marry Jeanne as soon as he got his papers.

1916. Self portrait by Jeanne Hébuterne1916. Self portrait by Jeanne Hébuterne

Sadly, he had no time to fulfill his promise. Amedeo Modigiani died on 24 January 1920 of tubercular meningitis. Jeanne was deeply affected by his death, and the next day, eight months pregnant with their second child, anguished and distraught, she committed suicide by trowing herself from the window of her parents’ apartment. With deep affection for Modigliani, Jeanne could not imagine life without him. The artist and his muse were united in death. Jeanne was only twenty-one years old.

Her epitaph read ‘Devoted Companion to the Extreme Sacrifice’.

Modigliani’s Muse

15 May

‘Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice.’

1918. Hébuterne by Modigliani

Jeanne Hebuterne, described as gentle, shy, quiet and delicate, was introduced to to the artistic community in Montparnasse by her brother Andre. There she met charismatic Amedeo Modigliani in spring of 1917. The two had an affair and they soon fell deeply in love. Despite the strong objection from her parents, she soon moved in with him and they got married.

As a beautiful young lady fit for Modigliani’s ideal of beauty, Jeanne instantly became the principal subject for Modigliani’s art. The portrait you see above is the portrait of Jeanne, painted in 1918, just two years prior to Amedeo’s death. Well known for his nudes and paintings of elongated faces, Modigliani was stubborn in not letting his art be labeled as Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism or Futurism, though he worked in a fertile period of ‘isms’. He insisted upon being an individual artist for himself, and his art indeed had its own direction. his nudes, influenced by the Italian Renaissance, were sensual, with elongated features but also quite objective. They were simultaneously abstracted and erotically detailed at the same time.

His portraits are simple, at first glance, but they have an appealing depth to it. I’ll take a portrait of Jeanne for example; that elongated face, full lips, dark eyes full of liveliness that gaze, not at he viewer, but into the distance, softness of her hair that falls on the shoulders, rosy cheeks. Her eyes seem so dark, thoughtful and dreamy but her gaze is full of unbearable sadness, sadness that is realistic, perhaps the sadness caused by the cruel realty which she cannot escape from. Melancholic spirit captivates all his portraits and nudes. Long-faced, sad beauties,that gaze thoughtfully at their dreary and lonely surrounding. Their gaze is not direct, they’re not asking the audience to rescue them from their sad worlds, quite the opposite, they seem to be an inherent part of that world, trapped in it for eternity.

1917. Jeanne Hébuterne in Red Shawl by ModiglianiJeanne Hebuterne in Red Shawl

1918. Portrait of a Young Woman by ModiglianiPortrait of a Young Woman

1918. Seated Nude by ModiglianiSeated Nude

1917. Dedie Hayden by ModiglianiDedie Hayden

1917. Nude Sitting on a Divan (The Beautiful Roman Woman) by Amedeo ModiglianiNude Sitting on a Divan

Modigliani died in 1920, aged thirty five, from consumption he masked with alcohol for many years. His epitaph read ‘Struck down by Death at the moment of glory’. Amedeo was a charismatic man who attracted the attention of females. Actually, many of his painting are now lost due to giving them to his girlfriends of the time. With only one solo exhibition held in 1917, which caused a lot of controversy among Parisians, Modigliani, who never longed his work to be regarded as avant-garde, became the epitome of the tragic artist and a posthumous legend of him was created.

Modigliani was an artist who created and painted not in an attempt to shock the audience or outrage, but to say ‘This is what I see.’