The enduring appeal of Modigliani lies foremost in the distinctive refinement and charming characterization with which he imbued his paintings, but also in the stories behind the people in them, and ultimately, in the impressively fascinating legend that quickly accrued to the man himself. All three aspects contend for attention in this enchanting portrait, which comes near the end of the series Modigliani painted of Beatrice Hastings during the years 1914-1916. This free spirit, Beatrice became the first–and arguably the most galvanizing and potently catalytic–of the two great muses in this artist’s life and work.
Beatrice Hastings may claim the second longest list of portraits Modigliani painted made of the same person, a series of a dozen or so pictures Ambrogio Ceroni has titled with her name, or are otherwise presumed to depict her. The honor for first place of course belongs to Jeanne Hébuterne, the love of the artist’s life and the woman he married, whose devotion to him was such that two days after his death in January 1920 she jumped from a window and killed herself–she was nearly full-term with their second child. The story of Modigliani’s life with Beatrice Hastings during the First World War is nearly as fraught with bohemian pathos and the perils of extreme romance–their love for each other, as in events of the day, turned into a kind of trench warfare on the home front. Here was a tragic triad of unfortunate lives in art: Modigliani, Jeanne and Beatrice. If Modigliani remains today the classic exemplar of the 20th century peintre maudit, poor Jeanne was no less accursed, and in her way, Beatrice too, whose story is melodramatic cinema come to life, but with reality ultimately intervening with its requisitely sad finale.
A passionate and exceedingly attractive man who adored women, Modigliani had numerous lovers. He spurned many others–Francis Carco, who chronicled life in Montparnasse during that period, wrote, “Women, struck by his good looks, were dying of love for him, foreigners, simple girls, but Modi always left them before they could tie him down” (The Last Bohemia, New York, 1928, p. 229). Many of the women whose lives crossed paths with Modigliani sat for their portraits, and although we can now easily gaze into the image of their faces, in most cases we know little if anything about the circumstances surrounding their relationships with the artist. There are perhaps some unsung heroines among them, pitiable martyrs to love, women whose impact on the life of the painter may have been especially meaningful then, but has been since lost to time.
Much is known, however, about the English writer Beatrice Hastings–her role in Modigliani’s career is well understood. The portraits the artist painted of her are in effect his personal and sensitive visual memoir of a deeply unconventional woman, with whom he had a turbulent affair that oscillated–for both lovers–between impassioned extremes of joy and anguish. Coinciding with Modigliani’s return to painting after concentrating on sculpture for more than two years, his depictions of Beatrice moreover occupy a preeminent position among the artist’s middle-period paintings, works which are fully-fledged and entirely characteristic, as yet unmannered to the extent some of the late paintings would eventually become, and thus represent a crucial stage in his artistic development. “From that time, on,” Jeanne Modigliani, the artist’s daughter, has written, “his work became continually more sure, more intense, and more serene” (Modigliani: Man and Myth, New York, 1958, p. 75).
Beatrice Hastings is the pen name that Emily Alice Haigh, who was born in South Africa in 1879, assumed when she became a writer. She claimed to have once been married to a prize fighter with this last name. Mrs. Hastings arrived in Paris during April 1914 to author a column entitled “Impressions de Paris” for an influential London literary journal, The New Age, whose editor, A.R. Orage, had been her lover. She quickly became a frequent subject of gossip in the fabled artists’ quarter. Max Jacob described her as “a great English poet...drunken, musical (a pianist), bohemian, elegant, dressed in the manner of the Transvaal and surrounded by a gang of bandits on the fringe of the arts” (quoted in J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, New York, 1996, vol. II, p. 368). She achieved unforgettable notoriety for attending a Quat’z’ Arts ball wearing a trompe l’oeil dress that Modigliani had painted on her naked body, and was rumored to cut notches in her headboard to keep tally of her numerous occasional lovers, including Picasso, Apollinaire, André Breton, Wyndham Lewis, Katherine Mansfield, and Ezra Pound. Later describing her Parisian exploits to Mansfield, Beatrice declared, “Of course, the people here simply love me for it. There hasn’t been a real woman of feeling here since the war” (quoted in J. Meyers, Modigliani: A Life, New York, 2006, p. 140).
Her poetry was in fact less distinguished than Jacob could have known, unable, as he was, to read English. André Salmon–like Jacob, a poet and close friend of Picasso–took a more measured view of Beatrice’s attributes. “Modigliani’s admirers will doubtless be willing to give due credit to Beatrice Hastings, the poetess who produced no poetry, for having deliberately put all her lyric gifts into her amours,” he wrote. “Beatrice Hastings did not love Modigliani; she was not capable of loving anyone or anything except a vague conception she had of poetry. She thought Modigliani was handsome; she was attracted to him; she wanted to become his mistress. Moreover, her poet’s sensitivity enabled her to divine his genius, which she awakened, or appeared to awaken; and if it was only an illusion, all the more honor to her if on getting out of her bed Modigliani began to create the finest work of his all-too-short career” (Modigliani: A Memoir, New York, 1961, p. 152).
The details surrounding the inception of Beatrice’s affair with Modigliani remain uncertain. The sculptor Ossip Zadkine and the English painter and artist’s model Nina Hamnett (who liked to boast she had resisted Modigliani’s advances) both claimed to have introduced the pair at the Café La Rotonde in Montparnasse, probably in June 1914. The American sculptor Jacob Epstein is also said to have had a hand in their meeting, according to an anecdote later published in the journal Paris-Montparnasse: “One day in London a friend of Modigliani, an American sculptor, met an English society woman, a cultured writer who was at loose ends... ‘Go to Paris, Mrs. H...’ said he. ‘In Paris there is a painter who is a beautiful man and a genius.’ Mrs. H... arrived without a word of warning and, coming to Montparnasse, saw an excited blue devil doing Negro dances on one of the tables of the Rotonde. ‘Modigliani!’ she cried. He jumped to the ground... They left arm in arm” (“Anecdote...” Paris-Montparnasse 13, February 1930, p. 19; quoted in P. Sichel, Modigliani, London, 1967, p. 269).
Beatrice herself, however, left quite a different account of her first encounter with Modigliani, which she recalled having taken place at Chez Rosalie, a small crèmerie on rue Champagne-Première. “A complex character,” Beatrice described Modigliani. “A swine and a pearl. Met him in 1914 at a crèmerie. I sat opposite him. Hashish and brandy. Not at all impressed. Didn’t know who he was. He looked ugly, ferocious and greedy. Met him again at the Café La Rotonde. He was shaved and charming. Raised his cap with a pretty gesture, blushed and asked me to come see his work” (quoted in ibid., p. 270).
“Modigliani’s piercing eyes scrutinized the young woman,” Salmon described the painter’s response to Beatrice at the Café La Rotonde. “He instantly took in her very real qualities, but instead of judging her as a painter he was hypnotized by her name. With his fixation on Dante, he was intoxicated by the music of the word Beatrice, ‘Bice’ as Dante called her when speaking of the first meeting with his chaste beloved. He looked at her more closely and realized she was beautiful in her way, and desirable” (op. cit., 1961, p. 156). Not long afterwards, as Beatrice wrote in one of her columns, she was “quite shook on the pale and ravishing villain.” By September, their affair was in full swing (“Impressions de Paris III,” New Age 4, June 1914; quoted in B. Klüver and J. Martin, Kiki’s Paris: Artists and Lovers 1900-1930, New York, 1989, p. 68).
Mrs. Hastings from London had thus become Modigliani’s “Beà”, his goddess and muse. She was then thirty-five; he was five years younger. By all accounts, the relationship was one of fervent passion, reckless debauchery, and violent quarrels. “He thrived on chaos and a roaring girl, even wilder than himself, was just what he needed to fire him up,” Jeffrey Meyers has written. "Totally lacking in the traditional English reticence and reserve, Beatrice was a sexual juggernaut, physically aggressive and determined to take her pleasure in the same way as a man” (op. cit., 2006, p. 137).
Beatrice did help in some ways to encourage Modigliani to settle down into his work. “The carnal paradise of love, presided over by Beatrice’s good taste and manners,” Salmon recounted, “proved so delightful for a while that it helped to win Modigliani away from the more artificial paradise to which he had become addicted. Beatrice would not tolerate hashish and, thanks to her influence, he doubtless left off drinking so much wine. But as she was not averse to whisky, he soon began to join her in consuming large quantities of that, and it so heated their brains that though they did not cease to be in love they soon began to quarrel” (op. cit., 1961, p. 162)
The poet Blaise Cendrars described Beatrice as “an hysteric... accosting all males and intoxicated from nine o’clock on. She was infatuated with Modigliani, who was libidinous, like all Italians. There were frightful scenes of jealousy. They drank together, they fought, they beat each other” (quoted in P. Sichel, op. cit., 1967, p. 284). Beatrice herself later recounted an incident that might have been as dangerous as it was likely comic to observe: “Once, we had a royal battle, ten times up and down the house, he armed with a pot and me with a long straw brush...” But, she added, “How happy I was!” (B. Hastings, “Madame Six II,” Straight Times 2, June 1932; quoted in B. Klüver and J. Martin, op. cit., 1989, p. 68).
Many of these accounts no doubt contain some degree of exaggeration. In the final analysis, the impact of the stormy relationship that Beatrice and Modigliani shared is evident in their work, both hers and his. Beatrice applied herself to a novella about their relationship which she entitled Minnie Pinnikin, her name for the character she based on herself. Modigliani became Pâtredor, a.k.a Pinarius, an allusion to his favorite book, Les Chants de Maldoror by Isidore Ducasse (a.k.a. Le Comte de Lautréamont), which inspired Beatrice’s work-in-progress. Minnie Pinnikin was never published. Kenneth Wayne discovered the long-lost text at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, among the papers left by curator William Liebermann, who acquired Hasting’s manuscript in 1951 while preparing a Modigliani exhibition. Wayne translated and published three chapters of the existing eleven (out of twelve she had written) in his exhibition catalogue Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 2002 (op. cit., pp. 204-211). “Minnie Pinnikin is a surrealist text,” as Wayne has described it, “with a narrative that drifts in and out of dream-like passages. Like automatic writing or stream-of-consciousness writing, the narrative is not linear and the intended significance is often unclear... ‘I was Minnie Pinnikin [Beatrice wrote] and thought everyone lived in a fairyland as I did’” (ibid., p. 204).
The paintings Modigliani made of Beatrice include some of his most finely articulated and perceptively characterized pictures of this period, portraits that reflect the manic chart of the lovers’ passions. The present portrait shows her in a relaxed mood, casually attired in a checkered shirt. The pinched forms of this three-quarter view stem directly from the sculptures Modigliani carved in stone a couple of years previously, derived from African and Byzantine models, now realized on canvas as a volumetric approach to form with a cubist inflexion. Beatrice’s pencil-thin eyebrows, almond-shaped eyes, and the long columnar neck in her portrait resemble elements of those mask-like stone heads, one of which she kept in her room.
The period of Modigliani’s affair with Beatrice coincided with new developments in selling his art. Dr. Paul Alexandre, who had been Modigliani’s supportive patron since late 1907, was called up for wartime service in 1914, ending this connection. The small-time dealer Guillaume Chéron stepped in to handle Modigliani for a brief period during late 1914; there had been a rumor afoot to which Carco referred (op. cit., 1928, p. 227)–surely untrue, like many other tales that have come down over time to comprise the Modigliani legend–that Chéron kept the artist locked in his basement until the day’s work quota had been delivered. In any case, Modigliani was delighted to receive, in addition to the supplies he needed and a place to work, a daily stipend of 10 francs. Before the end of the year Max Jacob introduced Modigliani to Paul Guillaume, who had begun as a dealer in African art, and at the age of only 23 had recently opened a gallery on the fashionable rue de Faubourg St. Honoré.
The terms of Modigliani’s contract with Guillaume were a vast improvement over his arrangement with Chéron; his new dealer could also offer more outlets and better opportunities to sell his work, which included a group show at the Modern Gallery, New York in 1916, to which Guillaume sent two of Modigliani’s sculptures. The artist painted four portraits of Guillaume during this period (Ceroni, nos. 100-102 and 108), the first of which he inscribed “Novo pilota”, to celebrate the arrival of his “new helmsman”. The present painting appears in a 1918 photo of Guillaume seated in his gallery. He worked with Modigliani until late 1916, when he passed the artist, whose erratic behavior had proved too difficult to handle, over to another young, aspiring dealer, Léopold Zborowski.
The tumultuous romance between Modigliani and Beatrice is miraculous for having lasted as long as it did, if only less than two years; each of them moved on to new partners around mid-1916. Beatrice caught Modigliani in a rendez-vous at the Rotonde with her French-Canadian friend Simone Thiroux, and duly threw a wine glass at her, leaving a scar above her eye. Beatrice took up with Alfredo Pina, another Italian sculptor. During one heated exchange Modigliani is purported to have thrown Beatrice against a window, breaking the glass and bloodying her. He met Jeanne Hébuterne, a young art student, in late 1916. The final scene between Modigliani and Beatrice took place at the banquet Marie Vassilieff held in January 1917 to celebrate Braque’s recovery from serious war wounds. Knowing that Beatrice would show up with Pina, Vassilieff offered to pay Modigliani to stay away. He arrived nevertheless, with an entourage in tow, and burst through the door. Having come prepared, Pina took out a pistol. As he raised his arm to aim the gun, Vassilieff shoved Modigliani back through the door, while Picasso and a friend bolted it behind him.
Beatrice Hastings returned to Britain in 1931, but never regained her pre-war status in literary circles. She lived out the rest of life often impoverished, penning diatribes against those she believed had denigrated her reputation, while drink ruined her health. She was terminally ill when on 30 October 1943 she burned her papers, cradled her pet white mouse in her hand, and took her own life by inhaling gas from a domestic cooker.
Amedeo Modigliani, Madame Pompadour (Béatrice Hastings), 1915. The Art Institute of Chicago.
Beatrice Hastings, 1907. Modigliani Institut Archives Légales.
Amedeo Modigliani, Tête, 1911-1913. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Amedeo Modigliani, Béatrice Hastings devant un porte, 1915. Sold, Christie’s, New York, 6 November 2002, lot 35.
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait de Max Jacob, 1916. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf.
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait de Madame Hastings, 1915. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait de Paul Guillaume (Novo Pilota), 1915. Musée de l’Orangerie; Collection Walter-Guillaume, Paris.
Paul Guillaume in his gallery, Paris, 1918. The present Portrait of Beatrice Hastings is on wall at upper left. Modigliani Institut Archives Légales.
Amedeo Modigliani, Béatrice Hastings au chapeau, 1916. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia.
Amedeo Modigliani, Pierrot (Auto-portrait), 1915. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.
Modigliani in his studio at the Bateau-Lavoir, circa 1916. On the wall at left is the portrait of Beatrice Hastings in the Barnes Foundation.