Our cover this month, “Jeanne Hébuterne (Au chapeau)” (36½ in. by 21½ in.) by Amedeo Modigliani, sold for $42,104,835 at Christie’s recent Impressionist and Modern Art Sale in London on Feb. 6, 2013. Though he was born into a reputable family and educated in the academic style at the finest art schools, Modigliani famously reinvented himself upon moving to Paris in 1906, casting off his “bourgeois” trappings and cultivating a reputation as a talented, but troubled, artist and a serial abuser of drugs and alcohol. He went so far as to destroy all of his previous work and adopted an entirely new visual style, notable for it’s elongated forms and mask-like faces. Theories abound as to what spurred this transformation, but it’s generally believed that the substance abuse was likely a means to disguise the symptoms of his tuberculosis, a highly communicable, and at the time, incurable, disease that would have made him a social outcast.
Like many of the avant-garde artists of this time, Modigliani sold very few paintings during his life, and what little he made was frittered away by his addictions. Since his death, however, the value of his work has skyrocketed, driven by his unique style, vagabond life and early death. He died at age 35 from tubercular meningitis, complicated by his alcohol abuse and narcotics addiction, leaving behind a reputation as the quintessential “tortured artist” and inspiring generations of misguided emulators.