video performance, digital SLR, 2:09
Jeanne Hébuterne has the unusual legacy of becoming best known by her death. More than eight months pregnant, she committed suicide by leaping from a fifth story window less than two days after her lover, modernist painter Amedeo Modigliani, died of complications from tuberculosis.
When she died at only 21, her primary identity within the Bohemian quarter of Montparnasse was retained as Modigliani’s devoted, quiet mistress and the mother of his only daughter, who they also named Jeanne. But first hand accounts of Hébuterne reveal a talented young painter who was both mysterious and rebellious, and determined to live outside the confines of bourgeois Paris.
Sealed into eternity as Modigliani’s muse, Hébuterne’s image survives in the over 20 portraits he painted of her, while her own work revealed a preoccupation with death. Nennette, as her friends called her, was willful though shy, and it’s uncertain whether or not her union with Modigliani, who she worshipped, would have lasted had he lived. But their legendary relationship contributes to a romanticized rhetoric that continues to surround a woman’s service to male artistic inspiration.