venerdì 22 ottobre 2010

an update on Jeanne Hébuterne

An update on Jeanne Hebuterne
After my essay Missing Person in Montparnasse  The Case of Jeanne Hebuterne was published in the Literary Review nearly ten years ago, I have received requests from time to time regarding information about JH , her artwork, and her relationship to Modigliani.  Since that time, I have had an opportunity to pursue my research and this looks like as good a venue as any to share what I know.
My essay was inspired by a visit to an exhibition Modigliani ed I suoi ( Modigliani & company) held in Venice  and curated by Christian Parisot,  recognized authority on Modigliani and long time collaborator with  Jeanne Modigliani, daughter of Jeanne Hebuterne and Modigliani.  The core of that exhibition which sent a ripple of delight  round the world were the artworks of young Jeanne – several sketches and paintings. It was revealed that JH was indeed a very gifted  artist whose work had value in itself, and not just because of her  link to Modigliani.  The Venice show was the first public viewing of her work in 80 years. After Jeanne’s suicide all her artworks  had been collected by her brother and locked away in his studio.  It was Jeanne Modigliani who had first ferreted  this story  out and who throughout her life had worked tirelessly to strip away the legend of Modigliani as “drunken woman-basher”  and Jeanne as a silent, sacrificial lamb and  passive model.   Jeanne Modigliani  desired ardently to re-establish her connection with her mother as artist and to free her from the oblivion which the Hebuternes had imposed upon her.  It took her entire lifetime.
The documents and artworks exhibited in the Venice show seem to have come mainly from two sources:  Jeanne Modigliani who had then transmitted them to her archivist, Parisot, and the heirs of  Andre Hebuterne, Jeanne's older brother.   I should mention here that at one time the Hébuternes publicly claimed that no such work of Jeanne’s existed – that it had all been dispersed after her death. That however seems to be untrue, and after his death at the age of 90, the veils were lifted.
The  pieces in the Venice show were  scheduled  to be exhibited  in  Segovia  where  an unexpected event then occurred.  Claims were made that some pieces in the show were fakes, the police closed it down and the curator was charged with art forgery.
It is  this news  that Jeffrey Meyers appends to  his biography of Modigliani – with a dismissive note on Jeanne’s art : “Jeanne Hebuterne ‘s nephew said that works supposedly by her and exhibited in Segovia were fakes.”   This would suggest that JH was no artist. Indeed he goes on to say:” Marc Restellini…then co-director of the Musée du Luxembourg  in Paris had identified a number of fake drawings and reduced their value to a negligible amount.”  What actually came out in the proceedings of the trial were that some drawings shown in Segovia were thought to be copies of originals drawn by JH, while others “pastiches” – compositions not drawn by Jeanne at all.  What had happened was that after the Venice show, the Hebuterne heirs declined  to lend the works for further exhibition.   At  the  show in Segovia the curator exhibited other works which had  come into his possession independently of the Hebuterne heirs and it was these works which were subjected to inquiry.   
Restellini,  the expert who had identified the drawings as fakes  then became the curator of another show of the  Hebuterne materials  organized  in Japan.  He  is the author of a book about  Jeanne and Modigliani which includes in the back a  catalogue raisonné of JH’s works.  His research bears out what Jeanne Modigliani and Parisot had stressed all along – it was not only passion for each other that linked  Jeanne to Modigliani  but their shared passion for art.
A comparative study of REstellini and Parisot’s findings  reveals that despite their mutual rivalry – they draw a similar picture of JH and Modì -  attempting to remove the fabrications overlaid upon the pair by the sensational memoirs published after their death   by friends and acquaintances such as Andre Salmon.  Like Parisot, Restellini grants Jeanne individual status as an artist of promise and merit.
In his book, we discover that Jeanne and Modi often painted the same subjects – ie – when someone came to sit for a portrait, Jeanne and Modi  would sometimes both work at the same time in the studio – so that we have a  second perspective   on some of Modigliani’s portraits.  These doubles – ie  portraits of the same people  painted by  both Modi and Jeanne,  allow us to grasp Jeanne’s independent research as a painter  and appreciate her unique sensibility.  She was particularly sensitive to  background, décor, fashion  --the very things Modigliani  left out of his portraits --  and includes details of this nature in her work. In fact it is through her drawings and paintings that we may catch a   glimpse of the studio where they lived and worked together.
Certainly Jeanne Modigliani would be pleased to know that one of her wishes has been granted. The world has come to know Jeanne Hébuterne not only as Modì’s favorite model –but as an artist with an agenda  of her own.

1 commento:

  1. ...It was there in the spring of 1917 that Jeanne Hébuterne was introduced to Amedeo Modigliani by the sculptor Chana Orloff. Jeanne soon began an affair with the charismatic artist, and the two fell deeply in love. She soon moved in with him, despite strong objection from her deeply Catholic parents. On 24 January 1920 Amedeo Modigliani died. Jeanne Hébuterne’s family brought her to their home but Jeanne, totally distraught, threw herself out of the fifth-floor apartment window the day after Modigliani’s death, killing herself and her unborn child. Her family, who blamed her demise on Modigliani, interred her in the Cimetière de Bagneux. Nearly ten years later, the Hébuterne family finally relented and allowed her remains to be transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery to rest beside Modigliani. Her epitaph reads: “Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice.”

    It took more than thirty years before an art scholar convinced the Hébuterne heirs to allow public access to Jeanne Hébuterne’s artwork. In October 2000, her works were featured at a major Modigliani exhibition in Venice, Italy by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini.