Amedeo Modigliani’s Jeanne Hébuterne (au foulard) to Highlight Sotheby’s London Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on June 21.
This elegant and lyrical work is among the most beautiful portraits Amedeo Modigliani painted of his lover Jeanne Hébuterne – revealing a tender moment between a pioneer in the world of modern art and his most loyal muse. The painting brings together the very best of the highly refined aesthetic that Modigliani had developed in the last few years before his premature death, whilst giving the viewer a glimpse into one of the most poignant love stories in 20th-century art history. Having been in a private collection since 1986, this exquisite work is expected to fetch in excess of £28m (in excess of $40m) and will be offered alongside Pablo Picasso’s Cubist masterpiece of his lover Fernande Olivier, as part of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale on 21 June 2016.
Modigliani forged a uniquely evocative style, inspired by a fascination with the Old Masters of his native Italy and the influence of the avant-garde artists he had met in Paris, including Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi. Jeanne Hébuterne (au foulard) powerfully synthesises all of the most iconic characteristic traits associated with the artist’s late portraits – from the geometric simplification of the female form and the flowing melodic lines and to the elongated neck and face so heavily reminiscent of his stone carvings (such as the exceptional Tête, which sold at Sotheby’s New York for a record $70.7 million in November 2014). His lover is given a pair of piercingly blue eyes, contrasting with his usual ‘almond’ vacant eyes, endowing the sitter with a dominant sense of personality and drawing the viewer in. She is also shown here seated in full three-quarter length splendour in a vibrant coral interior, her arms draped elegantly over of the back of her chair, her scarlet silk scarf knotted around her swan-like neck.
The final years of Modigliani’s life were marked by tragedy, but resulted in many of his most celebrated works. Modigliani moved to Paris in 1906 and within a year, he had cultivated a reputation as a drunk and voracious drug user. However, his escalating intake of drugs and alcohol may have been a means by which he masked his tuberculosis – those who had the illness were feared and ostracised and Modigliani’s penchant for camaraderie meant that he could not bear to be isolated.
Jeanne met Modigliani in 1917, when she was a young art student, and for the next three years she was his constant companion and source of inspiration. The two were devoted to each other – with Modigliani even pledging to marry her, despite her family’s protestations. Indeed, it is the portraits of Jeanne painted during the last years of his life are his most refined and accomplished works.
In January 1920, after not hearing from him for several days, a neighbour checked on the family and found Modigliani in bed delirious and holding onto Jeanne. Not long after, Modigliani died of tubercular meningitis. Following the funeral, a twenty-two year old, and reputedly heavily pregnant, Jeanne was taken to her parents' home. There, inconsolable, she committed suicide by leaping from an upstairs window. A single tombstone at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris now honours them both. His epitaph reads, "Struck down by Death at the moment of glory", hers "Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice".
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