coiled like a geisha’s
An elusive figure inhabits the sundrenched rooms of Modigliani’s Montparnasse studio in Rue de la Grande Chaumière. She sits quietly in a corner sketching, paces the corridor with a heavy step, waits at the window, looking down at skeletal trees in an empty courtyard. From Modigliani’s many portraits of her, we recognize the otherworldly gaze, the coppery hair coiled like a geisha’s, the unflattering hint of double chin: It is Jeanne Hébuterne, Modigliani’s last mistress, only friend, and the mother of his daughter, Jeanne Modigliani.
…She was a promising young artist, fourteen years Modigliani’s junior. She came from a conservative bourgeois background and was renounced by her family, devout Catholics, for her liaison with the painter, who in their eyes was nothing but a debauched derelict. Much too early in their love affair, Jeanne became pregnant with their first child. She was approaching the end of her second pregnancy when, destitute, abandoned by all but Jeanne, Modigliani died of tubercular meningitis on January 24, 1920.
Unable to face life without him, she walked backwards out a Paris window twenty-four hours later, and at the age of twenty-one, exited a world she had but little known.
Eighty years of silence have passed since Jeanne Hébuterne’s last act of protest. Upon her death, her daughter of fourteen months was whisked away to Italy where she was adopted by Modigliani’s sister, Margherita, who refused to recognize her brother’s stature as an artist, or to condone his illicit relationship with Jeanne.
(good sleepless night reading: more here)