Amadeo Modigliani is famous for his painting of a woman depicted with a long neck and without pupils. The woman shown in this portrait also has a long face and neck. She is the painter’s wife, Jeanne Hébuterne, but looks lethargic and depressed, perhaps because of her pupilless blue eyes. Why did the artist depict his wife this way?
Modigliani, who was born in Italy, came to Paris in 1906. He created more than 100 sketches a day, but suffered economically as hardly any of his work were sold until 1917. He pursued a Bohemian lifestyle and intentionally portrayed himself drunk and drugged, perhaps to conceal his struggle with tuberculosis, which he had been diagnosed in childhood. He grew more dependent on alcohol and drugs as his health worsened and physical agony increased. Due to his good looks, however, he was still popular with women and had several affairs.
He found true love in the spring of 1917. The 33-year-old artist met 19-year-old Hébuterne, an art student, and fell in love with her. Her parents, who were conservative bourgeois, were against the marriage but Hébuterne opted for love. In the spring of 1918, the couple headed to Nice. They had a daughter in November, but they were still poor as their artwork did not sell. This portrait was created in Nice and judging from the slightly bulging belly in the picture, Hébuterne seems to be in her early trimester. She had chosen love, but reality was difficult to bear. The fatigue of a pregnant wife and incompetent head of household is evidently portrayed in the painting.
On Jan. 24, 1920, Modigliani passed away from tubercular meningitis at the age of 36. On the next day of her husband’s death, Hébuterne threw herself out of a fifth-story window, killing herself and her unborn son of eight months. Death could not undo the couple. Modigliani, who had suffered from poverty and disease throughout his life, began to earn fame after his death. The unhappy couple became famous, almost as well known as Vincent van Gogh, later on.