“On 22nd September 1987 I was sitting in the local hospital waiting room. The room was very hot and as I waited, I turned the pages of an old magazine. I noticed a small reproduction of a Modigliani painting, and underneath it a short description of the painter and his last mistress, Jeanne Hebuterne. The scrap of story made me turn icy cold because I felt that it was already known to me.”
Thus began Patrice Chaplin’s extraordinary journey into the lives of these doomed lovers: a journey that was finally to unlock the secrets of their past.
During the years of the First World War, somewhere on the terraces of the cafés of Montparnasse, Jeanne Hebuterne met the Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani. She was a pretty young artist with a talent recognised by Foujita and Severini; he was in his thirties, unstable, penniless, unrecognised.
Yet as Cocteau said of him, ‘he had glory’. Incapable of forming lasting attachments, he seemed always to be appearing, then disappearing into the darkness laughing.
From July 1917 Jeanne lived with him in a top-floor Montparnasse studio. She posed for him continually as he, increasingly embittered, found escape in drink.
One week in the freezing January of 1920 Jeanne, expecting their second child, remained alone with Modigliani as he lay dying of tubercular meningitis. Too late, they were found, and Modigliani died in a charity hospital.
At the mortuary Jeanne gazed at the face of her lover in death until her father took her away. That night, nine months pregnant, she fell to her death from a fifth-floor window. Jeanne was only twenty-one years old. She had said ‘I know he is dead, but soon he will be living for me’.
For years speculation has surrounded the story of Jeanne Hebuterne. Then Patrice Chaplin embarked on an extraordinary journey that was to take her to Paris and to Haut-de-Cagnes, that was to be full of coincidence and chance meetings which would begin to unlock the past.
She found letters, photographs and drawings never previously seen. Jeanne’s friends and their children at last chose to break their silence.
Written with passion, humour and empathy, this personal and moving account at last casts full light on the much-mythologised life and tragic death of Jeanne Hebuterne.
Praise for Patrice Chaplin
‘… a surging intensity that keeps the reader glued to the page.’ – New York Times
‘Powerful romantic fiction in the tradition of Emily Bronte.’ – Guardian
Patrice Chaplin, is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter, whose fiction includes Having It Away, Siesta, Albany Park and Forget-Me-Not. Her most recent novel is The Fortune Sellers, about the psychic industry. She has also written several works of non-fiction.