This drawing commemorates the strong bonds of Modigliani's friendship with two other celebrated figures of Montparnasse, his fellow painter Chaïm Soutine and the poet Blaise Cendrars. Modigliani first met Soutine in 1913, not long after the latter arrived in Paris from Russia. Modigliani had a studio in the Cité Falguière, a ramshackle building that housed other artists. Soutine found a studio in a nearby building left over from the 1900 Paris Exposition known as La Ruche ('The Beehive'), where his neighbours included fellow Russian expatriates Marc Chagall, Moïse Kisling, Pinchas Kremegne, Jacques Lipchitz and Ossip Zadkine.
The Swiss-born Cendrars was an inveterate traveller who had lived in Russia in 1904-1907. He adopted his nom de plume during a recent sojourn in New York, where he had written his first major poem, Les Pâques à New York (Easter in New York). He liked mingling with the Russian artists at La Ruche, and there he also met Fernand Léger, who would become one of his closest friends. Cendrars was a frequent visitor to the Cité Falguière as well; Soutine moved there in 1916. Everyone caroused nightly at the nearby Café La Rotonde, which was also frequented by Pablo Picasso and his band of poets, Guillaume Apollinaire, André Salmon and Max Jacob, recent emigrés from Montmartre, which had become too tourist-infested for their liking.
Modigliani probably drew this sketch at the Rotonde, or perhaps during an excursion with Soutine, Tsuguharu Foujita and their dealer Leopold Zborowski to Cagnes-sur-Mer in April 1918, which provided Soutine his first vacation and experience of the sea.
Cendrars lost his right arm in fighting during the First World War, and while frequently in pain, learned to write with his left hand. Modigliani became one of Cendrar's favourite drinking companions, and provided the cover portrait for the poet's Dix-Neuf Poèmes Élastiques, which was printed in 1919. Modigliani and Soutine both suffered from chronic physical ailments. All three men knew great pain and suffering in their lives, felt deep compassion for each other, and are thusly united in this drawing.