Jeanne Modigliani (29 November 1918 – 27 July 1984)
I have updated an earlier Blog as a result of the increased interest in Amedeo Modigliani aroused by the splendid current exhibition at Tate Modern (23 Nov -2 April 2018)
Not the least part of the increased interest is the suggestion of forged artworks amongst this collection?
Jeanne Modigliani was brought back to Tuscany from her Grandparents home in Paris, France by her paternal uncle. At that point in time, Giuseppe Modigliani was a Socialist leader who was much better known than his younger brother, the artist, Amedeo Modigliani although the relativity was beginning to change as the value of the artist’s paintings soared after his untimely death on 24 January 1920.
Jeanne’s early childhood was never discussed, so until she reached adulthood she was unaware of the lives, abilities and tragic deaths of her parents, who both died when she was only 14 months old.
Jeanne’s mother was Jeanne Hébuterne, who was herself an accomplished artist but is now better known as an artist’s muse and model.
Jeanne Hébuterne was born into an extremely strict Roman Catholic family. Her father, Achille Casimir Hébuterne, worked at Le Bon Marché department store in Paris and liked neither artists or Jews, so he was not impressed by her choice of lover, Amedeo Clemente Modigliani, who was both.
Not yet universally recognised for his talent, the struggling artist Amedeo Modigliani was most certainly not deemed suitable for the Hébuterne’s precious, beautiful daughter.
Amedeo Modigliani himself had been born into a family whose fortunes had oscillated between riches and poverty, so he was no stranger to living on the edge of ruin. In fact, his birth coincided with the ultimate disastrous financial collapse of his father’s business interests.
According to the stories that Amedeo told around the Parisian bars, his timely birth saved the family from total ruin. They took advantage of an ancient law under which creditors were prevented from seizing the bed of a pregnant woman or a mother with a newborn child. The Modigliani film starring Andy Garcia shows his mother, Eugénie Garsin, going into labour on a bed piled high with the family’s most precious assets even as the bailiffs arrived at the door!
In later years his loving mother, shown above, more than repaid the favour through encouraging her sickly son to pursue his love of art and taking him to study the old masters in the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace.
Amedeo Modigliani’s debauched life in Paris quickly turned him from a dapper boy struggling to be an artist, into a dirty artist struggling for his life. From 1914 Modigliani’s use of drink and drugs intensified and after years of remission the symptoms of his tuberculosis got worse. It is unlikely that when he was introduced by the Russian sculptor Chana Orloff to his model, the 19-year-old Jeanne Hébuterne, that he was still a pretty sight – but he had not lost his Italian charm and she fell devotedly in love and set out to save him!
To try and improve relations with his “out-laws” through distance – and also by gaining some wealthy clients to improve their living standards, in 1918 the couple moved to Nice where their daughter, also called Jeanne, was born.
portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne by Amedeo Modigliani
Although her father painted some of his most sought-after work during that period, including the portraits he and Jeanne Hébuterne made of each other, he only made a small amount of money. So, the family moved back to Paris, where Modigliani’s health continued to deteriorate and he had increasingly frequent alcohol-induced blackouts. The portrait below is his final self-portrait.
Modigliani died on January 24, 1920, and despite the fact that the couple were themselves so poor, Modigliani had a lavish funeral paid for by his loyal friends from the various Montparnasse cafes and bars frequented by the painter.
Portrait of Amedeo Modigliani by Jeanne Hébuterne
A large crowd of these fellow “Bohemians” followed his coffin across the district to where was buried in the famous cemetery of Père Lachaise.
Jeanne Hébuterne could not bear the thought of life without her lover and despite the fact she was nearly full term with their second child, the following morning at 3 am she threw herself to her death from the window of her parent’s house.
Blaming Amedeo Modigliani for Jeanne’s death, her parents quietly buried her in Cimetière de Bagneux, somehow covering up the fact that she had committed suicide so she could be buried in holy ground. After ten years and the death of her father, the family finally allowed Jeanne’s remains to be buried with her beloved Amadeo in the famous cemetery of Père Lachaise. Her epitaph reads: “Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice.”
Thus their 14-month-old daughter Jeanne Modigliani had been left to be taken care of by her distraught grandparents, despite the fact that they didn’t really want the child.
Enter the aforementioned paternal uncle, Socialist Giuseppe Modigliani who arrived in Paris to whisk baby Jeanne back to a loving home in Tuscany, and by June 1920, Jeanne Modigliani was living with her aunt in Livorno. The family aimed to bring her up far from the Bohemian life she had led in Paris. This they succeeded in doing so well she claimed to remember nothing of her former life.
In March 1923, Jeanne Modigliani was declared legitimate based on a formal statement signed by Amedeo Modigliani in 1919 that he intended to marry her mother. This was hugely important as the value of his work had soared after his death and the arrangement with his dealer Leopold Zborowski was that one-fifth of the proceeds of any sale of Modigliani’s work went to the artist or to his heirs.
However, despite her inheritance, life was not to be easy for the child of Modigliani and as Fascism deepened its hold on Italy poor young Jeanne was identified and persecuted as a Jew. Most of her Modigliani family were forced into exile in Paris in 1926, after Mussolini’s rise to power.
So, in 1939 she too left Italy and, like her father before her, took refuge in Paris.where before the outbreak of WW2 Jeanne Modigliani married Italian economist and journalist Mario Cesare Silvio Levi. She had also become an ardent Communist – making her position as a Jew in France even more precarious.
When France was occupied by the Nazis during World War II, she joined the rural Maquis, aka the French Resistance, and in 1943 she was imprisoned for ‘political reasons’ but thanks to some forged documents she managed to get released.
During this period of supporting the French Resistance Jeanne Modigliani met another Resistance fighter, Valdemar “Valdi” Nechtschein, who was eight years older than her and also married, and they began a 30-year love affair.
In May 1946, Jeanne gave birth to their daughter, Anne. After some years of only seeing one another at weekends, they both divorced their spouses, married one another, and had a second daughter, Laure Nechtschein, in 1951. Sadly, Jeanne and Nechtschein grew apart and finally divorced in 1980.
Jeanne Modigliani became an expert art historian, specifically in relation to authenticating the works of her father. This included being invited to adjudicate in the famous case of the forged sculptures found in the Canal Fossi Reale Livorno in 1984.
As it was 100 years after the birth of Modigliani, Vera Durbé, then manager of Livorno’s Progressive Museum of Contemporary Art, decided to organize an exhibition of Modigliani’s sculptures. Interestingly, Vera Durbé was also a Resistance fighter, becoming an Italian Partisan during WW2. She invited Jeanne Modigliani to come to Livorno to authenticate three sculptured heads, reputed to have been thrown by the young Modigliani into the Fosso Reale, a ditch of the Medici Canal, after suffering disparagement from local critics. The administrative council approved the dredging of the works from the ditch and later found that all three heads that they had uncovered were recent works by local artists!
Suspiciously, just before she was due to visit Livorno, Jeanne Modigliani fell down the stairs from her apartment, and had to be hospitalised a brain haemorrhage,
She died on Friday 7.9.1984 in Paris at ‘La Pitié Hospital. She was sixty-six.
Probably her most lasting Heritage was the Biography of her father that she wrote in 1958. It was the product of intensive research after she finally discovered who her real father was!