Jeanne Hebuterne (1898-1920) was the love of Amedeo Modigliani’s life and his biggest artistic muse. She was described as “shy” and “delicate,” but was often asked by famous artists to pose for paintings because she was so beautiful. Painters were obsessed with her long dark hair and mesmerizing eyes. Not one to be outdone by others, Jeanne was a talented painter in her own right.
Jeanne met Modigliani in Paris at a prestigious art academy in the spring of 1917. They experienced intense chemistry and began an affair.
She was disowned by her wealthy conservative bourgeois Roman Catholic family after moving in with Modigliani, who considered him to be nothing more than a perverted degenerate. Jeanne also gave up her artistic and modelling career to be with him. She was deeply in love, enough to defy her family.
They were the It Couple of the Bohemian art community. The introverted, melancholic and pale girl with the braided hair had captured the promiscuous artist’s heart, and he was infatuated as well. It was, unfortunately, a doomed liaison.
The pair moved into a home together by the lush and sunny French Riviera, but the alcoholic and drug-abusing Modigliani came down with tuberculosis and died slowly and painfully. The couple’s daughter Jeanne was born in Nice in November of 1918, but this did nothing to lift the impoverished and ill couple’s spirits. Tuberculosis was overtaking Modigliani.
When he was dying, Jeanne was one of the only people who still stood by the broke and destitute artist. He was not rich in his lifetime, and had been giving his paintings away in exchange for restaurant meals. Friends found Modigliani in his deathbed with Jeanne crying and holding onto him, refusing to let him surrender to death’s embrace.
Though they were unmarried, Jeanne considered herself to be his wife and vice versa. She had been obsessed with thoughts of death and suicide even as a teenager, and Modigliani’s death would be the last straw for her. He died at 9 pm on January 24, 1920, and Jeanne’s heart died with him.
Jeanne had been pregnant yet again when Modigliani died and she couldn’t take the pain of her loss. At the tender age of 21, she jumped out of the 5th floor of her family apartment, 2 days after her lover’s death. She had killed herself and her unborn child, and left the couple’s baby an orphan. Jeanne’s body was found by a servant at 4 am, who brought it to the doorstep of her family’s home.
She and Modigliani are buried together in Pere Lachaise cemetery. Modigliani’s eptiaph reads “Struck down by death at the moment of glory,” and Jeanne’s epitaph reads “Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice.” If not for the cruelty of fate, talented and ethereal Jeanne would have been able to pursue her artistic talents as well.
As for Modigliani’s paintings? The man who died ill and penniless has paintings selling for up to $170 million USD in our time. The man who said “It is your duty in life to save your dream” was unable to save himself or the love of his life, but the cosmically corrupt universe consumed his art for profit.