In July, 1917, the italian painter Amadeo Modigliani meets the young Jeanne Hébuterne in Paris, where they fall in love, live together and star in a tragic love story…Before long, he died of tuberculosis and she - unable to bear the loss and with a nine month pregnancy - committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor, leaving their young first daughter orphaned.
"Modi" - as his friends used to call him - painted her in his own style: with sinuous lines, pale colors, elongated neck... In several portraits, he represented her with blank eyes, according to his own words, at the very beginning of their relationship, he wouldn't be capable of painting her gaze until he had discovered her soul.
With a reputation of being a bright and exquisite young man, in time, he was consecrated as a great artist. No one could deny his genius, as well as the private aspects of his disorderly life: excess of alcohol, drugs and many, many women – all were justified because he was an authentic bohemian and an eccentric of his time.
Jeanne, was a good painter too but never transcended as such. She was known as "the muse of Modigliani", as if it were a heroic role, a place she could be proud of. Jeanne was "the woman who gave her life for him" (literally). He was buried like a true prince. She ended up being secretly buried by her family.
What was the cost that the mates of these so temperamental men had to pay (in life) to be finally recognized as “muses”? Agnes Gund, President Emeritus of the Museum of Modern Art of New York (MoMa), may be right when in an interview she says that, by idealizing women, men finally turn them into objects, even if they later call them "muses." "Muses - she continues - are only another way of reducing women to an object; beautiful, but objectified. A man idealizes a woman when he's incapable of seeing her as an equal. It's his way of not sharing his power... " Many "muses" were in fact women victims of tremendously selfish men and suffered in silence a life full of misfortunes that the cultural industry has later replicated in countless books and films.
In the painting in which Jeanne poses in a blue dress, you can see - for the very first time - what Modigliani defined as "soul." He finally painted her eyes and the look has the expression of someone deeply saddened: there sits a young girl who is in intense pain. We don't really know if Jeanne had a weakness inherent to her personality - many sources agree to refer to her as a shy young woman - but we can assume that knowing Amedeo didn’t make her happy either.
It is probable that she’d hoped to have a way more peaceful life and not one marked by tragedy and with an epitaph like the one at her grave: "Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice"; ideal for the social imaginary or the big screen, who will first remember her as Modigliani's muse and then, as a woman who suffered - too much - for love.
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