The family, recently flung into financial crisis, rushed to pile their most valuable belongings around her on the bed. They wanted to take advantage of a law decreeing that creditors couldn't touch the bed of a pregnant woman. Modigliani's life proved to be no less dramatic than his birth.
In many ways, Modigliani followed the stereotype of an impoverished, tortured artist. He claimed to want to live “a short intense life”. In this, he succeeded.
At 16, Modigliani contracted tuberculosis. When he moved to Paris a few years later he set about recreating himself, destroying much of his early work, describing it as “childish baubles”.
He started drinking heavily and taking drugs, probably in an attempt to self-medicate and to try and hide his tuberculosis, a then untreatable condition whose sufferers were shunned. His drug and alcohol use gradually became an addiction.
Modigliani had one solo exhibition in his lifetime, at the Berthe Weill Gallery, Paris, 1917. However, the exhibition caused an outcry. Crowds gathered in front of the gallery windows and, amidst accusations of indecency, the police demanded the exhibition was closed. It was allowed to reopen, but only after removing the offending paintings from public view.
Nude Sitting on a Divan, or La Belle Romain, The Beautiful Roman Woman, was one of the paintings exhibited. It shows the influence of both the Italian Renaissance and the modern art movements of the time. The painting, oil on canvas, portrays a nude woman against a deep red background, a scrap of fabric partially draped across her body. The figure is bold and unashamed, gazing sensually, but not provocatively, from the frame.
In 1920, neighbours found the 35 years old Modigliani feverish, clinging to his heavily pregnant partner, Jeanne Hébuterne. He was in the grips of tubercular meningitis and later died in hospital, destitute. The day after his funeral, distraught from his death, Hébuterne jumped from a high window, killing both herself and their unborn baby. Left behind was their young daughter, Jeanne.
In 2010, 90 years after Modigliani died in poverty, Nude Sitting on a Divan sold for $68.9 million at a New York auction.