In the spring of 1917, Jewish-Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani living in Paris at the time was introduced to a beautiful 19-year-old art student named Jeanne Hébuterne. Soon they began a romantic relationship. From a conservative bourgeois background, Hébuterne was renounced by her devout Roman Catholic family for her liaison with Modigliani, whom they saw as little more than a debauched vagabond. Despite her family's objections, they were soon living together.
Hebuterne and Modigliani moved together into a studio on the Rue de la Grande Chaumière. Jeanne began to pose for him. She soon became the principal model for Modigliani's art.
On December 3, 1917, Modigliani's first and only solo exhibition opened at the Berthe Well Gallery in Paris. The chief of the Paris police was shocked by Modigliani's nudes, and he forced him to close the exhibition within a few hours after its opening.
Early in 1918, Modigliani left Paris with Hébuterne to escape from the war raging nearby, and traveled to Nice and Cagnes-sur-Mer. They would spend a year on the road, staying with friends, including Renoir, Picasso, de Chirico and Derain.
Soon after Modigliani and Hébuterne arrived in Nice on November 29, 1918, she gave birth to a daughter whom they named Jeanne. Jeanne Modigliani (1918–1984) spent her career as an art historian mainly conducting biographical research on her father. In 1958 she wrote a book called Modigliani: Man and Myth.
In May 1919, the couple returned to Paris with their infant daughter and moved into an apartment on the rue de la Grande Chaumière. Hébuterne soon became pregnant again. Modigliani then got engaged to her, but Jeanne's parents were against the marriage, especially because of Modigliani's reputation as an alcoholic and drug user. Modigliani officially recognized her daughter as his child. The wedding plans were thwarted when Modigliani discovered he had a severe form of tuberculosis.
Although he continued to paint, Modigliani's health deteriorated rapidly, and his alcohol-induced blackouts became more frequent.
In 1920, after not hearing from him for several days, a neighbour checked on the family and found Modigliani in bed delirious and holding onto Hébuterne. A doctor was summoned, but little could be done because Modigliani was in the final stage of tubercular meningitis. He died on January 24, 1920, at the Hôpital de la Charité.
There was an enormous funeral, attended by many from the artistic communities in Montmartre and Montparnasse. When Modigliani died, twenty-one-year-old Hébuterne was eight months pregnant with their second child.
A day later, Hébuterne was taken to her parents' home. There, inconsolable, she threw herself out of a fifth-floor window, killing herself and her unborn child.
Modigliani was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery and Hébuterne at the Cimetière De Bagneux near Paris. It was not until 1930 that her embittered family allowed her body to be moved to rest beside Modigliani. A single tombstone honours them both. His epitaph reads: "Struck down by Death at the moment of glory". Hers reads: "Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice"
Portrait of a Young Girl, 1919