Jeanne Hébuterne, French painter of the later 19th and early 20th centuries, her works are considered as expressionists. However, in the History of Art, Hébuterne is part of the group of women artists who is only remembered as the wife, lover, or muse of someone.
She was the second child to Achille Casimir Hébuterne who worked at Le Bon Marché, a department store, and Eudoxie Anaïs Tellier Hébuterne. Jeanne was introduced to the artistic community of Montparnasse by her older brother André Hébuterne, who was also a painter.
Jeanne was always described as a gentle, shy, quiet, and delicate young woman. She was incredibly talented and at the time she decided to pursue an artistic career, she chose to study at the Acadèmie Colarossi, where in 1917 she would meet Amedeo Modigliani. They fell deeply in love and began an affair. Jeanne became her muse and the principal subject of his paintings. Very soon she decided to move with the artists leaving the house of her parents despite their objection.
In the spring of 1918, they left Paris for Nice, while in Nice their daughter, Jeanne Modigliani, was born. When they returned to Paris a year later, Jeanne was pregnant again. By then Modigliani was suffering from a tuberculous meningitis and his health was deteriorating badly. On January 1920 Modigliani died, Hébuterne returned to her parents’ house, but she could not overcome the lost of her love and threw herself out of the fifth-floor apartment window only two days after Modigliani’s death; killing not only herself, but her unborn child too.
Only more than thirty years later after her death an art scholar could persuade Hébuterne heirs to allow public access to her paintings. In October 2000, some of her works were featured at a major Modigliani’s exhibition in Italy organised by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini. However, in 2010, it was revealed that the works presented at the exhibition were forged. The curator of the exhibition had been accused by Hébuterne’s heirs of faking 77 drawings, he was sentenced to a two-year suspended sentence and a 50,000€ fine by a French court of appeals. However, nowadays we know that the drawings were, in fact, originals.
Unfortunately, Hébuterne story is not very different of other women artists that had a relationship with male artists. Their biographies are always about the love story, as if the only important thing on their lives was the relationship with an artist. So, I am sad to say that I could not find anything related to her own work or career. All the information about her artistic career disappeared in the moment at she met Modigliani. I hope one day, this history changes, and women artists began to be remembered by their own lives, works and achievements.
- Despite being famous for Modigliani’s portraits of her, Hébuterne modelled for other artists such as Tsuguharu Foujita.
- Her daughter with Modigliani, Jeanne, was adopted by Modigliani’s sister and grew up in Italy knowing very little about her parents. Later, as an adult, she began researching their lives and wrote her father’s biography, in English the book is named Modigliani: Man and Myth.
- Hébuterne and Modigliani are now buried together at the Père Lachaise in Paris. Her epigraph reads: “Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice”.