Painted around 1916-17 at the beginning of their relationship, Jeanne Hébuterne au collier is believed to be the very first portrait of Modigliani's future wife and muse, Jeanne Hébuterne. The sheer excitement that the artist must have felt at this nascent stage in their love affair is evident in this beautiful picture. The surface texture of the composition, rendered with generous dollops of paint, appears to be almost jewel-encrusted, especially when considering the sitter's sapphire-blue eyes. At the bottom of the canvas the artist lavishes his cursive signature, which may have been incisedinto the think impasto with the blunt end of his brush. If this picture was meant to impress his new paramour, one might imagine that it succeeded. For the rest of Modigliani's life, Jeanne would be at the artist's side, inspiring his most sensual and powerful compositions, until his tragic death in 1920.
Jeanne Hébuterne was born on April 6, 1898 and was just 19 when she met Modigliani while studying art at the Académie Colarossi. For the next three years until his death and her tragic suicide the following day, she would be his constant companion and source of inspiration, and the artist was to immortalize her image in a number of portraits. Although Jeanne was an artist herself, she remains known primarily through Modigliani's portraits of her. By the time he started depicting Jeanne, the artist had developed his mature style, and the portraits of her, painted during the last three years of his life, are among his most refined and accomplished works.
Marc Restellini has written the following about Jeanne Hébuterne au collier: "This painting, heavy with impasto, gives little indication of the portraits that were to follow in 1918-19. The latter show Modigliani's full mastery and are more fluid in their use of paint. But this one is intensely moving, marking as it does the advent of a shared passion that ended tragically" (M. Restellini in L'Ange au visage grave (ex. cat.) op. cit., p. 302
Having refined his style and technique, Modigliani confidently imbued his portraits of Jeanne with an emotional and psychological dimension unique within his work, as described by Claude Roy: "In most pictures of Jeanne we find a very discreet, deliberately subdued color orchestration [...] in the softness of the colors, the fragile delicacy of the tones and the exquisite discretion with which relationships between the picture elements are stated, we cannot fail to sense the expression of a love no less discreet than ecstatic. Modigliani is speaking here almost in a whisper; he murmurs his painting as a lover murmurs endearments in the ear of his beloved. And the light bathing the picture is the light of adoration" (Claude Roy, Modigliani, New York, 1958, pp. 112-13).
Jeanne Hébuterne au collier synthesizes the bold stylistic traits which Modigliani developed in his post-1916 portraits: the geometric simplification of the female form; the S-shaped curve of her body; the elongated neck; the head tilted to one side with almond shaped eyes that prevent the viewer from communicating with the sitter, enveloping her in an enigmatic and impenetrable mood; the stylized, accentuated line of her nose; and the pursed, small mouth with sensuous lips. This neo-mannerist style that characterised Modigliani's painting is partly derived from the artist's fascination with the Old Masters of his native Italy. As Werner Schmalenbach wrote: "Historical associations impose themselves: echoes not only of the fifteenth-century Mannerism of Sandro Botticelli but of the classic sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mannerism of Pontormo, Parmigianino and perhaps also El Greco. One work often mentioned in connection with Modigliani's late portraits of women is Parmigianino's Madonna dal collo lungo; Pontormo's St. Anne Alterpiece is equally relevant. Modigliani had a sound knowledge of Italian art, and we must assume that he was well aware of all this, however direct or indirect the actual influence" (Werner Schmalenbach, Modigliani, Munich, 1980, p. 42).
Apart from these historical influences, Modigliani was acutely aware of the artistic developments of his own time. Although he never subscribed to the syntax of Cubism, he adopted some of its stylistic devices, such as the geometric simplification and break-up of forms, and was close to the sculptors Ossip Zadkine and Jacques Lipchitz, both of whom were strongly influenced by Cubism. Even more important, perhaps, was his relationship with Brancusi, whom he met in 1909. Brancusi not only encouraged him to carve directly in stone, causing him to virtually abandon painting for several years, but also gave the most convincing demonstration of how influences from the widest possible range of sources – tribal, archaic, Asian and African – could be transformed into a personal idiom of the greatest originality. Although Modigliani never developed a style as close to abstraction and as far removed from the world of natural appearances as that of Brancusi, he was strongly influenced by Brancusi's simplified forms, reducing his sitters' faces to a few highly stylised features. What distinguishes Modigliani's portraits is the balance between his unique mannerism and stylization on one hand, and a naturalism and interest in the psychology of his sitters on the other.
According to the inscription on the reverse, the present work was painted at the studio owned by Modigliani's dealer, Léopold Zborowski. During the winter of 1916-17, Zborowski moved to an apartment on the rue Joseph Bara, where he offered Modigliani lodging and work space. The dealer also supplied materials and models and paid the artist 300 francs per week for his entire output. It is therefore most likely that Zborowski was the first to handle the sale of the present composition. By the early 1930s, Jeanne Hébuterne au collier came into the possession of the Ohio-based collectors Paul and Milicent Lamb, who sold this work in New York in 1941. It was later acquired by prominent lawyer Robert Eichholz, who kept it among his collection of modern art in Washington, D.C.
Oil on canvas
Cincinatti, Museum of Art, Exhibition of the Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Lamb, 1933
22 by 15 1/4 in. 55.8 by 38.7 cm
Arthur Pfannstiel, Modigliani, Paris, 1929, catalogued p. 34, III (titled Femme au collier and as dating from the end of 1916)
Adolphe Basler, Amedeo Modigliani, Paris, 1931, illustrated pl. 13 (as dating from 1916)
Pierre Descargues, Amedeo Modigliani, Paris, 1951, illustrated pl. 25 (as dating from 1916)
Enzo Carli, Modigliani, Rome, 1952, illustrated pl. 7
Pierre Descargues, Modigliani, Paris, 1954, illustrated p. 25
Arthur Pfannstiel, Modigliani et son oeuvre, 1956, no. 95, catalogued p. 85 (titled Jeune femme and with incorrect bibliography and as dating from 1915-16)
Ambrogio Ceroni, Modigliani, Milan, 1958, no. 75, catalogued p. 53 (as dating from circa 1916-17)
Jeanne Modigliani, Modigliani sans légende, Paris, 1961, no. 41
Alfred Werner, Amedeo Modigliani, New York, 1966, fig. 43, illustrated p. 36
J. Lanthemann, Modigliani, Catalogue raisonné, Barcelona, 1970, no. 185, illustrated p. 209 (as dating from 1917)
Ambrogio Ceroni & Leone Piccioni, I dipinti di Modigliani, Milan, 1970, no. 173, illustrated p. 96
Christian Parisot, Modigliani Catalogue raisonné, Peintures, dessins, aquarelles, vol. II, Livorno, 1991, no. 13/1917, illustrated p. 149 (as dating from 1917)
Osvaldo Patani, Amedeo Modigliani, Catalogo generale, dipinti, Milan, 1991, no. 178, illustrated p. 193 (as dating from 1917)
Victoria Soto Caba, Modigliani, El rostro intemporal, Madrid, 2008, illustrated in color p. 333
(probably) Léopold Zborowski, Paris
André Saint (sold: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, February 27, 1932, lot 87)
Galerie Zborowski, Paris
Paul & Mildred Lamb, Shaker Heights (acquired from the above by 1933 and sold: Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, December 11-12, 1941, lot 122)
Arnold Seligman & Rey, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Robert B. Eichholz, Washington, D.C.
Private Collection, Europe