Amedeo Modigliani, born into a wealthy family in Italy, was stricken with illness early on in life. He managed to move to Paris by 1906 and often visited Picasso’s studio, but instead of being drawn into the Cubist aesthetic, took his artistic cues from early European medieval art as well as the art of several non-Western cultures. From these he drew on the stylized, linear simplifications that would characterize his nudes and his portraits. This is one of the latest depictions of his wife (1898–1920), whose soft features and quiet gaze are not easily distinguishable from the dozens of other three-quarter and bust-height portraits he completed. Stricken with tuberculosis and prone to abusing alcohol and drugs, Modigliani died at age 36, less than two years after this portrait was completed. Bereft, Jeanne killed herself two days later. She was pregnant with their second child.
Jeanne Hébuterne was born in Paris to a Roman Catholic family. Her father, Achille Casimir Hébuterne, worked at Le Bon Marché department store.A beautiful girl, she was introduced to the artistic community in Montparnasse by her brother André Hébuterne who wanted to become a painter. She met several of the then-starving artists and modeled for Tsuguharu Foujita. However, wanting to pursue a career in the arts, and with a talent for drawing, she chose to study at the Académie Colarossi. It was there in the spring of 1917 that Jeanne Hébuterne was introduced to Amedeo Modigliani by the sculptor Chana Orloff (1888–1968) who came with many other artists to take advantage of the Academy's live models. Jeanne soon began an affair with the charismatic artist, and the two fell deeply in love. She soon moved in with him, despite strong objection from her deeply Catholic parents.