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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Jeanne Hébuterne

Jeanne Hebuterne, Self-portrait, ca. 1918 
Probably a self-portrait, ca. 1918
Jeanne Hebuterne

When people speak of Jeanne Hebuterne they talk of tragic, devoted love and a beautiful face. Actually very few people actually do talk of Jeanne Hebuterne even though her face is one of the most famous in all the art world. Jeanne Hebuterne was an artist, but that's almost beside the point. She was young, quiet, gentle, a student at the second-rate Paris art school, Académie Colarossi, founded by the relatively obscure Italian sculptor Filippo Colarossi around 1870. His school was mostly known for the fact that it featured nude models of both sexes and allowed equal participation by art students of both sexes (simultaneously, even). Jeanne's older brother, Andre was also a student there. Neither of them were particularly talented.

The lovely Jeanne Hebuterne and the dashing Amedeo Modigliani.
Mostly, Andre and his sister were fleeing the strict, bourgeoisie life and upbringing of their strict, Catholic father, Achille Casimir Hébuterne, an employee of Paris' Bon Marche Department Store. At the Academie Colarossi Andre came to know several of the stereotypical Montparnasse school of starving artists such as Tsuguharu Foujita, Chana Orloff, and Amedeo Modigliani. Though they may have feigned interest in her desire to become a painter, it was likely her great beauty that most intrigued them. She came to pose for each of them as well as others. She was barely nineteen at the time.

Jeanne Hebuterne, 1918,
Amedeo Modigliani
Jeanne Hebuterne, 1919,
Amedeo Modigliani
In something of a Romeo and Juliet scenario (Modigliani was, in fact, Italian, and Jewish), Amadeo and Jeanne fell deeply in love. They began sharing an unheated two-room apartment on the West Bank. Unlike Shakespeare's pair, they never bothered to get married, but that's a minor point. Jeanne's parents were unaware of the arrangement for several months, and when they found out, they were, of course, adverse to the situation, if for no other reason than their daughter's bohemian boyfriend was a good fourteen years older than she. Nonetheless, about a year after they met, Jeanne gave birth to a baby girl they named Jeanne Hebuterne (who later took on the name Modigliani after she became an artist herself, and discovered who her parents were).
Portrait of Chaim Soutine, 1917,
Jeanne Hebuterne
Portrait of Chaim Soutine, 1917,
Amedeo Modigliani
It would seem the two sometimes painted together. Their individual portraits of the artist, Chaim Soutine (above), are radically different in style. Some might say hers seems to capture more of their friend's character than his. Judging from the hundreds of times Modigliani painted her, one might be tempted to suggest he was simply looking for a convenient live-in model. While there may have been that element in their relationship (at first, anyway), there can be no doubt that the quiet, attractive, under-aged, middle-class, Catholic, Parisian mademoiselle and her handsome, romantic, wild-living, hard-drinking, drug-addicted, Italian, Jew of thirty-four were also very deeply in love. He painted her out of love. She stood by her man out of what turned out to be an even deeper love.
Jeanne Hebuterne and Amedeo Modigliani by Alan Kirkland Roath
captures the essence of the couple's tragic love.
Just as Romeo and Juliet did not end well neither did this love story. Amadeo Modigliani died in the dead of winter, January 24, 1920, of tubercular meningitis aggravated by alcoholism and drug abuse. His wife was eight-months pregnant. Though there had been a breach in their relationship for some time, Jeanne Hebuterne's family took her back in the next day. Whether so distraught at her lover's death, or as some say, at his request (so he could be with her in heaven) Jeanne jumped from a fifth-floor window of her parents' home to the street below. The following day, so great was the Paris art community's love and respect for Amedeo Modigliani, he was buried in a large, lavish ceremony in the prestigious Père Lachaise Cemetery, while Jeanne's remains were secretly buried in an early-morning private ceremony at the obscure Cimetière de Bagneux. It wasn't until ten years later that Jeanne Hebuterne's family allowed her remains to be moved to a grave next to Modigliani's.

Jeanne Modigliani, author, artist, orphan, ca. 1970
"Modi," by Jeanne Modigliani
The couple's daughter, Jeanne, was adopted by her father's Italian family, growing up in Florence. There, only as a questioning adult, did she discover the tragic circumstances of her parents' lives and love. After several years of research, in 1958, Jeanne publish a definitive biography of her father, Modigliani: Man and Myth. It has since been translated into English and French. She died in 1984 Similarly, it wasn't until after WW II, some thirty years after her death, that Jeanne Hebuterne's family allowed her work to be publicly displayed.

Jeanne Modigliani and her
mother, 1919. The identity of
the older child is unknown.


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