• gerard van weyenbergh

Jeanne Hebuterne, muse of Modigliani, committed suicide 24 hours after his death.

A century ago, the suicide of Jeanne Hébuterne, Modigliani's companion, brought the final touch to the myth of the accursed artist. A tormented muse with sculptural beauty, Jeanne was also an artist, in love with light and color.

In the early hours of January 26, 1920, in the Panthéon area inParis, a window opens on the fifth floor in a courtyard on rue Amyot. A young woman leaps into the void.

Her dislocated body carries a child, also dead. This drama becomes a legend in modern art. The woman is Jeanne Hebuterne, daughter of Achille Hébuterne and Eudoxie Tellier. Jeanne was the companion of Amedeo Modigliani from 1917 to the death of the artist in 1920. According to Marc Restellini, Modigliani expert but also the author of the catalog raisonné of Jeanne Hébuterne's work, her fatal gesture contributed to the Modigliani myth: "Modigliani's death on January 24, 1920 was brutal but not surprising. He was sick for many years with tuberculosis. But the tragic death of Jeanne 24 hours after his disappearance partly sparked, or at least crystallized, the legend of the accursed artist. We forgot the modern painter, the intellectual, to retain only the seductive artist, "pretty". And Jeanne's immense talent has been minimized".

The arrival in beauty in the artistic world

Born in Meaux in 1898, Jeanne Hébuterne bathed very early in an artistic climate thanks to her brother André, landscape painter. She studied painting at the Colarossi Academy, rue de la Grande-Chaumière, a famous institution in Montparnasse. The sickly whiteness of her face enhanced by her magnificent brown hair earned her the nickname Coconut. This pallor adds to the singular beauty. With her almond-shaped eyes, her straight, thin nose, the perfect oval of her face resting on the high column of her neck, she looks like a Madonna of Parmigianino reviewed by Brancusi.

Tenderness and silence

The young woman met Modigliani during the 1917 carnival. The artist lived a violent passion with an English novelist, Béatrice Hastings. "Jeannette was both tenderness and silence, beauty, and forgiveness. After the storms of his affair with Béatrice and the disorders of wandering, Modigliani found with Jeanne a haven of rest", writes Daniel Marchesseau in 1981. She inspires some of the most beautiful paintings from his last period.

The mannerist beauty of the young woman meets the ideal of feminine beauty. He paints her portrait, represents it naked several times, without her face being identifiable.

Jeanne is not only beautiful and silent. She is intelligent; she has character and talent! "Composed of a few paintings, many drawings and magnificent notebooks, her work reflects an astonishing maturity," says Marc Restellini. Her brother André Hébuterne, a fine classical artist, introduced Jeanne to painting. The latter's mobilization in 1914 and his long absence were no doubt difficult for his sister. The Modigliani meeting in 1917 filled this void. At the age of 15-16, she was already a brilliant artist, influenced by the art of Maurice Denis and Nabis. Modigliani falls in love with her because he perceived her talent. He is attracted to women artists, poets, intellectuals. He liked to help talent, as he showed elsewhere with Soutine. Modigliani was not her master. He was the support of this young woman whose fragility he had perceived, in a relationship that was as brief as it was intense. "Some paintings of Jeanne will be sold by Leopold Zborovski, poet and friend of Modigliani merchant, or the artist himself. Two of them were acquired by Jonas Netter, one of the first buyers of Modigliani.

A psychologically fragile young woman

In July 1917, the couple moved into a workshop on rue de la Grande-Chaumière. Their first child was born the following year in Nice, where, faced with the worsening state of health of Amedeo, the couple spent the winter. Time is now running out for Amedeo, who writes on a sheet of paper countersigned by friends Zborovski and Lunia Czechowska: "Today, July 7, 1919, I agree to marry Mademoiselle Jeanne Hebuterne as soon as the legal papers arrive". Legend says that while dying, he will ask Jeanne to follow him in death. This so-called "pact" made us forget Jeanne's precarious mental health. "Her suicide is not a romantic act, a sudden reaction to the death of Modigliani," continues Marc Restellini. Long before their meeting, Jeanne Hébuterne's correspondence shows a young woman physically and psychologically fragile, already lost. Her pallor was legendary. Her family knew she was suicidal. Her brother André slept in her room to avoid the worst. She escaped his vigilance in the early morning while he was sleeping soundly. "According to the will of his parents, Jeanne was buried in the utmost discretion in Bagneux cemetery. Her tomb later joined at le Pere Lachaise cemetery that of the "Prince of Montparnasse" who had not had time to marry her ...

Connaissance des Arts, 2019