Jeanne Hébuterne in a yellow sweater: Amedeo Modigliani

Jeanne Hébuterne in a Yellow Sweater: Amedeo Modigliani

Jeanne Hébuterne in a Yellow Sweater is a 1919 painting by Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani who was well known for his portraits in the early 20th century. This work is located in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Jeanne Hébuterne in a Yellow Sweater Analysis

This work, titled Jeanne Mébuterne with Yellow Sweater, is a representative piece of Amedeo Modigliani’s oeuvre. It is also nicknamed “Le sweater jaune” in counterdistinction to other seven Modigliani portraits of Jeanne Mébuterne.

It shows Modigliani’s lover shortly after the birth of their daughter, also named Jeanne, and their move to Nice, Provence.

As the title plainly announces, it is Jeanne, wearing a yellow sweater, and a dark skirt. She is sitting on a simple wooden chair and behind her is a particularly – and likely deliberately – mundane interior – the corner of a room and a chest of drawers.

Her hands are crossed, not clasped, on one side of her lap, and she appears to be leaning slightly on that side.

The absence of any proper perspective creates no difficulty for our seeing very easily Jeanne’s correct position with respect to four objects behind her: the floor, the walls, the drawers, and the chair. A slight borderline as well as the pale blue behind the yellow sweater, the yellowish complexion, and the reddish chignon create sufficient contrast.

Jeanne Hébuterne in a Yellow Sweater and Fashion

In his characteristic Primitivist fashion, Modigliani sees the woman as an elongated figure: tall, slim, almost shoulderless, displaying the emblematic long neck of Modigliani’s style, and a chignon at the top of her head to boot. Everything about the upper half of her body conforms to a strong verticality.

Her face and her nose contribute much to that impression by appearing as a peg (the nose) and an oval squashed on the sides (the face).

Jeanne Hébuterne in a Yellow Sweater’s Body Language

This language of rough verticality is a product of Modigliani’s pursuit of Primitivism, an endeavor contemporary and synonymous to that of Paul Gauguin. And like in the case of Gauguin, it may owe something to the experience of African tribal masks, which began to attract the interest of artists in Central Europe in the early 20th century.

In particular, when we look at the simplistic face of Modigliani’s Jeanne Mébuterne, impassive and devoid of eyes, we may easily imagine that we are seeing a mask to which paint has been applied. Because the absence of eyes carries a suggestion of non-humanity, we may imagine that we are standing before a goddess.

And quite like in the African masks and in some of the ancient and prehistoric sculptures which had begun to be publicized, Modigliani’s “goddess” displays the pyramidal structure of slender arms (or legs) contrasting with abundant, even jutting, hips and thighs.

The significance of this accentuation is obviously due to broad hips being a symbol of female fertility. It is therefore that we even more readily envison Jeanne Mébuterne as the goddess of fertility who had brought life into Amedeo Modigliani’s existence.

Their reciprocal devotion is testified by the entirety of their frenzied relationship, and perhaps by nothing so much as the fact that Jeanne Hébuterne committed suicide within hours of Modigliani’s passing.

Jeanne Hébuterne in a Yellow Sweater Location

Jeanne Hébuterne with Yellow Sweater (Le sweater jaune) is today at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

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