Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne, Amedeo Modigliani
In early 2013 Amedeo Modigliani’s Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne topped a prestigious Christies International sale in London, earning a final $42.1 million bid from a private collector. It is a surprising twist of fate for this labor of love that was completed when the artist was languishing in utter poverty, just a year before his death from tuberculosis. Painted in 1919, Modigliani’s stunning and iconic piece of modernist painting is a figurative reproduction of his common-law wife Jeanne. Eager for a career in the arts, Jeanne enrolled at the Académie Colarossi where, in the spring of 1917, she met Amedeo Modigliani and became the main artistic subject of this seminal Expressionist portrait painter. In the summer of 1918, due to Modigliani’s poor health and a constant battle with tuberculosis, the couple moved to Nice for respite. That November the couple were blessed with a daughter, yet during their stay in the French Riviera, the artist’s health declined. Staying less than a year in the South of France, the pair returned again to Paris to live in the artist’s Montparnasse studio on Rue de la Grande-Chaumiere. Pregnant with another child, Jeanne was devastated when the love of her life died in late January 1920. A few days later and in the final month of her pregnancy she launched herself from the fifth floor of her family home, dying instantly.
Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne demonstrates the powerful force that lay behind the demonstration and manifestation of the artist’s unique talent. Due to the serenity and ease with which the artist depicted his sitter, many of Modigliani’s Jeanne portraits can also be seen as a testing-ground for formal and compositional experiments. Owing to the influence of his friend Chaïm Soutine, Modigliani’s palette would become gradually more ethereal, owing also to their temporary decampment to the warm amber shades of Nice. Yet whether Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne was painted near the seas of the Mediterranean or in the desolate wasteland of post-WWI Paris, it remains a testament to the enduring power of love and passion that pervaded the works of this truly idiosyncratic painter. Likened by many to a ‘Mannerist Madonna’, Modigliani’s Jeanne is an enigmatic vision of earthly love and tragedy and a defiant gesture of hope in the face of the insurmountable odds of war, disease, and death. Dynamic and timeless, the spirit of early-twentieth-century Montparnasse can be found with the confines of this tight frame.