• The Story of Modi's Girl
  • Jean Burman
  • artist studioaustralian artistgouachejean burmanmodiglianipaintingwatercolorwatercolour
The Story of Modi's Girl
Modi's Girl gouache 22 x 30

Jeanne so loved Modigliani that she gave her life for him.  She also gave the life of their unborn child. It was a desperate act of passion. Passion can do that to a person.  Here's why I think we need passion.  Even if it threatens to destroy us. Because sometimes… just sometimes… it can save us instead.

But first I will have to go back to the archive!

Sept 24 2008 

Modi’s Girl [the painting] was born out of a wish [on my part] to give Jeanne Hebuterne [Modigliani’s sweet companion and muse] the eyes Modigliani had omitted in his famous portrait “Jeanne Hebuterne avec un grand chapeau”

A little high handed of me I know… but heartfelt nonetheless. And I’m pleased now I did it. I suspect Jeanne wouldn’t have minded so much… and I now feel as though I knew her [even if only just a little]

Jeanne was an artist in her own right who lived and painted in the shadow of Modigliani’s greatness. How great she herself may have ultimately become will never be known for Jeanne threw herself from an upstairs window… taking her life and the life of their unborn child... the day after Modigliani’s untimely death in 1920 from tuberculosis and substance abuse.

She died for love.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen all that often any more. Passion it would seem is passé. Replacing it… a kind of generalized emotional malaise in the modern way of things.

I wanted to capture some of that past magic… albeit in my own way… adding my own contemporary spin. Whether I was successful or not I shall leave to my critics whom I feel sure will be swift to have me answer for it. Either way it was fun… and I’m glad I did it.


Modi’s Girl has become something of an institution in my life in the six years since I painted it. She now goes wherever I am. When I have moved places she is the first painting I haul out of storage and place squarely on the new wall !

I painted Modi’s Girl at a time when my life was changing irrevocably. My beautiful home was being stripped down for renovations before being sold. In the final few weeks of my marriage I hauled my easel out into the middle of the living room [for reasons I can't really remember now] and proceeded to paint… much to the amusement of the painters and plasterers who had set up their trestles all around me [as if willing me on].

It was I suspect one final act of defiance. A final staking out of my space… of my place in the world… and of my determination to live life on my own terms.

So much has happened since then. I have grown in so many ways I could never have imagined back then. My life has changed. I have changed. I am different. Better. More me. 

But still… there’s this. In that painting I gave Jeanne the eyes that Modigliani refused to paint until he “knew her soul”. She on the other hand… gave him her life… along with the life of their unborn child. That kind of passion doesn’t come along every day. It taught me to hope that passion does exist in the world… in the people we might choose to give our hearts to… in the places we live in and love... and in the work we do that’s important.

Passion is the driving force behind every single thing that is good and true and worthwhile in the world. Without it we would be half hearted. Apathetic. Complacent. Somehow lacking.

In some ways [for me]… Modi’s Girl represents freedom… though giving Jeanne eyes to see could not have saved her from her broken heart even back then. Nothing could have saved her from a love like that.

I wonder now if she’d had the eyes to see… might she have chosen differently? Somehow I doubt it. She loved him with passion. It was enough.

LEAVE A NOTE [I left a space for you below] :)

  • Jean Burman
  • artist studioaustralian artistgouachejean burmanmodiglianipaintingwatercolorwatercolour

Comments on this post ( 8 )

  • Jul 16, 2014

    Jean, How very beautiful…..My eyes are damp and there’s a lump the size of a lemon in my throat. EMOTION….the key to producing REAL works of ART when it’s in the heart of the painter…..BOB!

    — BOB

  • Jul 16, 2014

    Bob! So absolutely lovely to hear from you here :)

    I loved this painting… still do… [it represents so much for me] but the powers that be back in 2008 didn’t like it as much as my highly commended Conspiracy Theory the year before so it got sky-ed in the Regional Gallery’s niche space [a bit like Melville eh? haha] but I didn’t care. It was a first for me in gouache [which I adore] and spoke from my heart about how I felt about Modi and Jeanne [and me apparently] at the time x

    — Jean

  • Jul 16, 2014

    You have captured Jeanne’s soul in the painting, and our hearts with your words. Beautiful, as always!

    Emily x

    — Emily

  • Jul 16, 2014

    Thanks Em <3 you know you’ll always have my heart!

    Mum x

    — Jean

  • Jul 17, 2014

    Dear Jean,
    I just loved reading your story. It was like a good book – just had to keep reading till I reached the end. As usual, you describe feelings, emotions so well.
    Take care……

    — Lynne

  • Jul 18, 2014

    Thanks Lynne very much appreciate your lovely comment x

    — Jean

  • Jul 13, 2015

    Jean this is beautiful. Passion, freedom and love – they are the forces in life that keep us moving forward :). x

    — Joh

  • Jul 16, 2015

    Thanks Joh they are indeed … lovely to hear from you :) x

    — Jean

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