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Art and Images in Psychiatry
July 2005

Jeanne Hébuterne

Author Affiliations
 

James C.HarrisMD

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(7):710. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.7.710

In the month of July, 1917, our daughter met an Italian painter named Amedeo Modigliani, of Leghorn [Livorno], who lived in Paris. They fell in love. . . . —Notarized declaration by M and Mme Hébuterne, March 28, 19231(p116)

Jeanne Hébuterne (1898-1920) was 19 years old when she met Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) at the students’ carnival in Paris, France. She attended the Académie Colarossi, an art school established in the 19th century as an alternative to the more conservative French national school of fine arts. He was 33 years old and an aspiring artist. Their backgrounds were strikingly different. Her family was Roman Catholic, and she lived at home with her parents at 8 bis rue Amyot. Her father was an accountant and her brother a painter. She was a serious, intelligent young artist with a “strong personality.”1(p88)Her hair was a chestnut color with reddish lights; its contrast with her pale complexion led her friends to nickname her “Coconut” (Figure).

Figure. Jeanne Hébuterne, 1918. Private collection.

Figure. Jeanne Hébuterne, 1918. Private collection.

Modigliani led the bohemian life to its fullest in Paris, abusing alcohol and drugs and having numerous affairs with his models. He was a Sephardic Italian Jew from the Tuscan port city of Livorno on the west coast of Italy.2

Modigliani was an avid reader and was influenced by his maternal grandfather, Issac Garsin, who was deeply interested in philosophy and history; he claimed a distant relationship to Spinosa. At age 11 years, Modigliani became seriously ill with pleurisy and at age 16 years experienced a recurrence with fever and hemoptysis, leading his doctors to diagnose tuberculosis. Earlier, at age 14 years, during a life-threatening bout of typhoid fever, he had expressed an interest in art and studying drawing, and his mother had agreed. Now she took him on a trip to visit art galleries in Naples and Capri to facilitate his recuperation. Later he attended classes at the Florence Academy under Giovanni Fattori in 1902 and at the Institute of Fine Arts in Venice in 1903. In 1906, he joined Picasso and others as part of the vibrant Paris art community, initially seeking to become a sculptor and studying with Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957). Between 1910 and 1914, he made stone sculptures that were influenced by African and Asian masks. The physical effort of carving in stone and the stone dust it produced worsened his respiratory problems, resulting in his return to painting. After 1914, his interest in sculpture influenced his unique style in painting, characterized by an elongation of form, a purity of line, a rhythmic linear style, and a sense of sculptural mass.

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), Italian. Cover: Jeanne Hébuterne, 1919. Oil on canvas, 36 × 28.75 in (91.4 × 73 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr and Mrs Nate B. Spingold, 1956. Photograph ©1985 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Figure appearing in the “Arts and Images in Psychiatry” article: Jeanne Hébuterne, 1918. Oil on canvas, 18⅛ × 11⅜ in (46 × 29 cm). Private collection/Christie’s Images, London/Bridgeman Art Library.

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), Italian. Cover: Jeanne Hébuterne, 1919. Oil on canvas, 36 × 28.75 in (91.4 × 73 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr and Mrs Nate B. Spingold, 1956. Photograph ©1985 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Figure appearing in the “Arts and Images in Psychiatry” article: Jeanne Hébuterne, 1918. Oil on canvas, 18⅛ × 11⅜ in (46 × 29 cm). Private collection/Christie’s Images, London/Bridgeman Art Library.

Jeanne adored Modigliani, and by June 1917, they had rented a third-floor studio together on the rue de la Grande Chaumière. She became his favorite model, posing for at least 20 portraits, but unlike those of his other models, none were nudes. Her family objected to their relationship, but she was devoted to him. His agent, Léopold Zborowski, hoped that Jeanne might reform his disorderly life and this would result in his greater productivity.

His declining health and the extension of World War I to Paris with regular bombings of the city resulted in arrangements to go south to Nice. The Zborowskis, Jeanne and her mother, and Modigliani rented an apartment together. But Jeanne was pregnant, relations between Modigliani and Mme Hébuterne deteriorated, and he moved to a hotel. On November 29, their daughter, Jeanne, was born. He wrote to his mother that, “The baby is well and so am I. . . . I am not surprised at your feeling like a grandmother, even outside the bonds of matrimony.”2(p91-92)By the end of June, Jeanne and Modigliani returned to Paris, where he resumed his drinking, often with his friend Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955). Although Zborowski arranged an exhibit in London at the Hill Gallery that received good reviews, there was too little money. Modigliani was seriously ill with tuberculosis, but he continued to drink and carouse; Jeanne frequently brought him home from bars or from the police station. After she again became pregnant (thumbnail), they placed their baby in care with a nurse in the country and visited her regularly.

Family legend has it that, knowing he was dying, Modigliani asked Jeanne to follow him to the grave “so that I can have my favorite model in Paradise and with her enjoy eternal happiness.”1(p98)As his illness progressed, Modigliani was taken to the Hospital de la Charité in Paris with severe headaches and cough; he died of tuberculous meningitis on January 24, 1920.3 Jeanne came to the hospital for one last look and was taken to her parents’ home. There a violent argument ensued about what was to be done with her now that he was gone. Seeing her emotional state, her brother slept in her fifth-floor room that night. Toward morning, she leapt from the window, killing herself and her unborn child. The family refused to bring her body into their home, and it was taken by handcart to Modigliani’s studio, where it lay until friends came to claim it.

Modigliani’s brother Emanuele, a well-known Socialist leader, wired to Paris to bury him like a prince.2 The art community turned out with a long procession in his honor, and even the police who had arrested him came out to salute him.4 Jeanne’s parents refused to have her buried near him, but 5 years later, his brother Emanuele prevailed and Jeanne and Amedeo were placed together. The tomb is inscribed, “Finally They Sleep Together.”2(p206)Their daughter was raised by his unmarried sister, Margherita; as an adult, Jeanne wrote the story of her father’s life.1

Modigliani’s surviving work includes more than 400 oil paintings, drawings, watercolors, and gouaches and more than 20 stone sculptures. Even in the paintings he created in his final months, despite his illness, he maintained his creative spark. One of those last paintings, of Jeanne,5 graces this cover.

References
1.
Modigliani  J Modigliani: Man and Myth.  New York, NY Orion Press1958;
2.
Mann  C Modigliani.  New York, NY Oxford University Press1980;
3.
Stirling  G Tuberculosis and 19th and 20th century painters.  Proc R Coll Physicians Edinb 1997;27221- 226PubMedGoogle Scholar
4.
Chaplin  P Into the Darkness Laughing: The Story of Modigliani’s Last Mistress, Jeanne Hébuterne.  London, England Virago Press1990;
5.
Klein  Med Modigliani: Beyond the Myth.  New York, NY The Jewish Museum and Yale University Press2004;
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