Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Modigliani, Amedeo

Jeanne Hebuterne
oil on canvas
55 x 38 cm
Private Collection

Jeanne Hebuterne (1898 - 1920) was a French artist, best known as the frequent subject and common-law wife of Modigliani. She was born in Paris to a  bourgeois Roman Catholic family. Her father worked at Le Bon Marche department store. A beautiful girl, she was introduced to the artistic community in Montparnasse by her brother who wanted to become a painter. She met several of the then-starving artists and modeled for Tsuguharu Foujita. However, wanting to pursue a career in the arts, and with a talent for drawing, she chose to study at the Academie Colarossi. It was there in the spring of 1917 that she was introduced to Modigliani. Jeanne soon began an affair with the charismatic artist, and the two fell deeply in love. She soon moved in with him, despite strong objection from her deeply Catholic parents. Her family disapproved of the much older Modigliani because of his bohemian lifestyle and Jewishness.

Gentle, shy, quiet, and delicate, Jeanne Hebuterne became a principal subject for Modigliani's art. Her distinctive appearance and mysterious expression inspired Modigliani to paint her numerous times. In the fall of 1918, the couple moved to the warmer climate of Nice on the French Riviera where Modigliani's agent hoped he might raise his profile by selling some of his works to the wealthy art connoisseurs who wintered there. While they were in Nice, their daughter was born. The following spring, they returned to Paris and Jeanne became pregnant again. By this time, impoverished and physically unwell, Modigliani became volatile after consuming copious quantities of drugs and alcohol. He was suffering from tuberculous meningitis and his health was deteriorating badly.

On 24 January 1920 Modigliani died. Jeanne Hebuterne's family brought her to their home but Jeanne, totally distraught, threw herself out of the fifth-floor apartment window the day after Modigliani's death, killing herself and her unborn child. Her family, who blamed her demise on Modigliani, interred her in the Cimetiere de Bagneux. Nearly ten years later, the Hebuterne family finally relented and allowed her remains to be transferred to Pere Lachaise Cemetery to rest beside Modigliani. Her epitaph reads: "Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice." Their orphaned daughter, Jeanne Modigliani (1918-84), was adopted by her father's sister in Florence, Italy. She grew up knowing virtually nothing of her parents and as an adult began researching their lives. In 1958, she wrote a biography of her father that was published in the English language in the United States as Modigliani: Man and Myth. (excerpt mainly from Wilipedia)

With her long, curved neck, her elongated, oval face, almond-shaped eyes and small, pursed lips, this portrait represents the Modigliani’s mature style. His late works are suffused with melancholy and it has often been remarked that their tranquillity contrasts with the chaos of his personal life.

 “What I am seeking is not the real and not the unreal but rather the unconscious, the mystery of the instinctive in the human race.” (Modigliani)

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884 - 1920) was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. He was born as the forth and the youngest child in the family, which belonged to the secularized Jewish bourgeoisie. Today, he is known for his paintings and sculptures in a modern style characterized by mask-like faces and elongation of form but during his brief career few apart from his fellow artists were aware of his gifts. He had to struggle against poverty and chronic ill health.

He met the first serious love of his life, Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, when he was 26. Anna was tall with dark hair, pale skin and grey-green eyes, she embodied Modigliani's aesthetic ideal and the pair became engrossed in each other, although in later years they became apart. In 1914, the First World War broke out and he wanted to enlist but was exempted from military service for health reasons. In 1917, he met the 19-year old Jeanne Hebuterne (1898-1920), student of the academy and started to live together. "She was gentle, shy, quiet and delicate. A little bit depressive". She became his major model until his death, he painted her no less than 25 times. In 1918, Modigliani and Jeanne left Paris, which was under the threat of occupation by Germans, and went for the southern coast. In Nice and its environments he produced most of the paintings that would later become his most popular and highest-priced works. In November, 1918 in Nice, Jeanne  gave birth to a girl.

After returning to Paris, by the end of 1919, he became seriously ill with tubercular meningitis, exacerbated by poverty, overwork and addiction to alcohol and narcotics, and he died on January 24, 1920, at the age of 35. When he died, his pregnant wife of nearly nine months was emotionally destroyed by his death. The day after his death, she jumped out of a fifth storey window and killed herself and her unborn child. They were finally buried together in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. Their orphan daughter was adopted by Modigliani’s sister in Florence; later she would write an important biography of her father Modigliani : Man and Myth.