Tag Archives: Tragic destinies

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’.

Tragic sisters: Elena and Alexandra Pavlovna

30 Dec

Grand Duchesses Elena and Alexandra Pavlovna were sisters, born only a year apart. They shared not only their parents but their destinies. They were both married as a teenagers and they both died young.

1795. Alexandra and Elena Pavlovna

c. 1795-1797. Grand Duchesses Alexandra and Elena Pavlovna by Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun.

Alexandra was born on 9. August 1783. in Tsarskoye Selo as a third child and a first daughter of Maria Feodorovna (Sophie Dorothea of Wurttemberg) and Paul I. of Russia. Her younger sister Elena was born on 24 December 1784. in Saint Petersburg. The two sisters were very close and they were often painted together.

They received a typical education of a Russian princesses, focused on music, languages and art. Grand Duchess Elena was very beautiful and her paternal grandmother Catherine II. named her after the famous Helen of Troy. Alexandra’s beauty is evident even on the later portraits. In the portrait above she’s shown on the right.

1790. A little Grand Duchess Alexandra Pavlovna dressed in kokoshnik and sarafan

1790. A little Grand Duchess Alexandra Pavlovna dressed in kokoshnik and sarafan.

Unfortunately, their innocent childhood was interrupted by marriages. Alexandra married Archduke Joseph of Austria on 30 October 1799. Her younger sister Elena married Frederick Louis, Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin on 23. October 1799. Alexandra was sixteen years old at the time and Elena only fifteen.

When the marriage negotiations started for Alexandra, her paternal grandmother wished her to marry Gustav IV of Sweden. That would have solved the political problems between Russia and Sweden. The young king indeed came to visit his future wife, as he had thought. Alexandra and Gustav had fallen in love at first sight. He declared his love to her and went instantly to ask for her hand from the Great Empress Catherine II.

Empress was delighted but the question of religion was overlooked and that would cause serious problems later on. While reading the marriage contract, Gustav noticed that Alexandra was to keep her Orthodox religion. Furious, he broke off the marriage contract and a year later married Princess Fredericka of Baden, younger sister of Elizaveta Alexeievna, Alexandra’s sister in law. Alexandra was grief-stricken, but three years later she was married off in Austria, in order to cement the alliance between Russia and Austria.

1795. grand duchesse alexandra pavlovna

1796. Grand Duchess Alexandra Pavlovna by Vladimir Borovikovsky.

Her life at the Austrian court was more than difficult. Empress Maria Theresa, second wife of Emperor Franz II, was jealous of Alexandra’s beauty and fine jewels she brought with her from Russia. On top of all that, Alexandra greatly resembled Franz’s first wife, Elizabeth of Wurttemberg, who was Alexandra’s maternal aunt.

Alexandra died on 16. march 1801., a year and a half after the marriage, of puerperal fever after giving birth to a daughter who died the same day. Her early death and her father’s murder at the same time were terrible blows for the Romanov family.

Портрет великой княжны Елены Павловны

In the late 1790s Elena was betrothed to Frederick Louis, Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. The marriage took place in palace of Gatchina on 23. October 1799. It was a custom for princesses to travel to their husband’s land to get married, but Russian Grand Duchesses were an exception. Tradition for them was to get married in their homeland as both Elena and, Alexandra a week later, did.

Elena and Frederick had two children. Their first child, a son, was born less than a year after the wedding and their second child, a daughter Marie Louise, was born only six months before Elena’s death. Elena named her daughter Marie after her mother Maria Feodorovna. Their son, Paul Friedrich, was named after his grandfathers; the Tsar of Russia and the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

1796. grand duchesse elena pavlovna

Elena found the new court in Schwerin quite different from the opulence of Saint Petersburg. As opposed to Alexandra, Elena was content with her marriage life and was even happier when the baby arrived. The year 1801. was extremely difficult for Elena; her loving and dearest sister Alexandra died and her father was assassinated.

Elena died suddenly on 24. September 1803. after she’d fallen ill the same month. She was buried in Helena Paulovna Mausoleum, named in her honour. Her husband, although deeply in sorrow, married seven years later to Princess Caroline Louise of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. He had three children with her and eventually died in 1819.; sixteen years after his loving first wife.

1802. Elena Pavlovna of Russia

I hope you found this story and tragic destinies of these unfortunate sisters as amusing and fascinating as I did.