M A R C H 12,  2013

 

hastings 1 Modigliani’s Women. Beatrice Hastings

 

Much has been written about Modigliani’s life and work. The artist’s biography has formed the groundwork of more than one film by now, to say nothing of books devoted to his life and work. Gradually, as it happens with practically every great man, Modigliani turned into a Myth, Legend and Icon adored by millions. And what about those they loved in their lives?

It has long been known that in the life of any creative personality there are always places, events and people that largely influence both the artist himself and his creative development. As is often the case with creative personalities, Modigliani frequently fell in love and had affairs. He was very popular with women, yet, undoubtedly, Jeanne Hébuterne, who bore him their daughter Jeanne, was his most romantic and tragic love and his passion for Beatrice Hastings was the most heart-rending.

Who was that lady, known to us from 14 paintings of Modigliani and his numerous drawings? What was so special about her?

Amedeo and Beatrice met in July 1914 at the La Rotonde café in the Montparnasse Quarter, where everybody knew everybody. Every night artistic bohemians met at the Café de la Rotonde and Café du Dôme. Sculptor Ossip Zadkine introduced them to each other. Called by everybody the poetess, she was a correspondent for the London-based art weekly The New Age, who had come to Paris in April that year. They first saw each other at the Café Chez Rosalie. This is how Beatrice described that meeting in her memoirs, “I sat opposite him. Hashish and brandy. Not at all impressed. Didn’t know who he was. He looked ugly, ferocious, greedy. Met again at the Café Rotonde. He was shaved and charming. Raised his cap with a pretty gesture’ blushed to his eyes and asked me to come and see his works.”

 

hastings 2 Modigliani’s Women. Beatrice Hastings

 

Modigliani was 30 by the time they met. He was an artist and sculptor well-known among the Bohemians for his bad repute. He had made no career, his works practically did not sell, and if they did, it was for not more than 5-20 francs, rarely as much as several hundred francs. He did not associate with any artistic trend, nor sided with the Fauvists or Cubists, the fact that affected his participation (rather non-participation) in group exhibitions. Through coincidence his work did not make it to the 1913 Arsenal Exhibition in New York, where contemporary European art was on show and where EVERYBODY was represented. A shy youth who had arrived in Paris in 1906, Modigliani had become an alcoholic brawler and hashish addict, who together with his buddy Maurice Utrillo was repeatedly detained by police. At the same time he had the image of an aristocratic gallant, who was popular with women and never parted with a book of Les Chants de Maldoror  by the French poet Lautréamont. He thought sculpture to be his calling and drew only when he could not get stone or else when fits of cough caused by tuberculosis (diagnosed in childhood) prevented him from doing what he loved the most. He was a man of modest means: he got a monthly allowance from his mother, who believed in his gift and doted on her Dedo, and small sales receipts mostly from his permanent admirer Dr. Paul Alexandre who spent all his money on Modi’s works. His gift was appreciated by Max Jacob, who tried to help Modi and introduced him to the 23-year-old art dealer Paul Guillaume, and by Pablo Picasso, who was already a fashionable and well-off artist in no need to exhibit at art dealer galleries – buyers came directly to his studio.

 

hastings 3 672x1024 Modigliani’s Women. Beatrice Hastings

 

Beatrice was a far cry from an innocent young girl. She was 35 when she met Modi. She cleverly hid her age, same as other details of her past life for that matter.

She was born in London in 1879 into the family of wool trader John Walker Haigh of Haddersfield, Yorkshire, who immigrated to Port Elizabeth in South Africa in the 1880s. Emily Alice Beatrice was the fifth of seven children and from youth caused problems for her parents. She early married a commoner, Alexander Hastings, who, she said, was a “boxer” and whom she divorced shortly afterwards. She was a circus rider, wrote poetry and manifested an extraordinary talent for singing with a wide range, from the highest soprano to bass. She also learned to play the piano and subsequently was praised as a gifted piano player.

No doubt, her family saw to it that Beatrice was sent as far away from Capetown as possible, thus fulfilling her dream to live in her native Britain. In the early 1900s she returned from Africa as the head-nurse on a ship carrying soldiers wounded in the Anglo-Boer War. For many years she received a monthly allowance from her relations that guaranteed them a peaceful life in South Africa. She invented several myths about her near and dear – she said that one of her brothers was a newspaper publisher in Capetown and another  a war hero and writer; however, no documental evidence has been found. According to official papers found after her death, she was the widow of the boxer Lachie Thomson, which prompted scholars to conclude that she had remarried shortly after her arrival in England.

 

hastings 4 783x1024 Modigliani’s Women. Beatrice Hastings

 

Attending a theosophical lecture in London in 1906, Beatrice met Alfred Richard Orage, a brilliant young publisher of the controversial Fabian political and literary weekly The New Age. Beatrice had dreamed of devoting herself to writing while the 33-year-old publisher was impressed by her extraordinary intelligence. Between 1906 and 1914 Beatrice was the right hand and mistress of Alfred Orage. Philosophy, literature, social issues and occultism brought Beatrice and Alfred together. They considered themselves disciples of Helena Blavatsky, to whom Beatrice remained loyal throughout her life and about whom she subsequently wrote a series of booklets Defence of Madame Blavatsky (1937).

Thought to be the most lively weekly for intellectuals of that period in London, The New Age published Bernard Shaw, Arnold Bennett, Ezra Pound, Herbert Wells, Catherine Mansfield, Henry Miller and other writers who were to become famous. Later it published articles by Picasso, reproductions of Cubist pictures and the full text of Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto.

Beatrice shared Socialist views, believed that women should have the right to vote (while being  anti-feminist), advocated government protection of women from the “horror of childbirth” and scandalized The New Age readers with articles about the unjust and monstrous exploitation of women by men for childbirth. She wrote 48 poems under her own name and was proud of them. She also wrote under numerous pennames and believed she was the true founder and ideologist of the weekly. Hastings was indeed talented and her publications were a great success.

 

hastings 5 Modigliani’s Women. Beatrice Hastings

 

She ruthlessly interfered in the personal life of Katherine Mansfield (1889-1923), a young gifted New Zealand writer and her close friend, by forcing her to have an abortion. Beatrice was an expert in this from her South African experience.

Her affair with Catherine and public pronouncements on her sexual freedom led to a breakup with Alfred Orage. Beatrice left for Paris for several months in the belief that Orage would beg her to come back, but that did not happen.

Upon her arrival in Paris Beatrice plunged into high life, got acquainted with the English literary community of Paris, became friends with Max Jacob, who spoke fluent English, and felt quite comfortable, given free money. She started to write “Paris Impressions” for the The New Age under the penname of Alice Morning. Until mid-1915 the articles were of a personal nature and looked more like diary entries, but then became more formal and presented translations from French poetry, including extracts from Alfred de Musset’s Nuits de mai and Max Jacob’s Fille du roi, as well as reports about the latest works of Picasso and thoughts on the fate of Cubism and Paris art life. To give Orage his due, he published her articles without any edits.

Needless to say, it was only natural that they should fall in love: Beatrice could not meet men like Modi in London, and for that matter there were no such women in Paris. They were a fairly strange pair though. She was a tall slender reddish blonde, dressed elegantly, but always an oddball – now wearing an incredibly defiant hat, now with a live duck in a basket dangling from her arm instead of a bag. He was lower in height, a dark-complexioned and haired man in picturesque rags in which some acquaintances barely recognized his “posh” velvet suit. Contemporaries opined that no description of Beatrice gave a full idea of that woman: her overall image was far more attractive than her individual features and traits.

 

hastings 6 Modigliani’s Women. Beatrice Hastings

 

Their relations were dazzling and temperamental. She believed that she did not have to belong to anyone, while he was violently jealous, often without any grounds – it was enough for Beatrice to simply speak English to somebody. What was more, it all happened when either he or she was in a state of alcoholic or narcotic intoxication. Beatrice frowned upon drugs, but was quite impartial to whiskey. With her Modi started to drink less, but could not renounce hashish that cost 2 pence a ball. Hence the unbelievable stories about fights, Beatrice being thrown out of the window head down (followed by mutual reconciliation) and cries “Help! Murder!” on both sides, which were described in numerous articles and memoirs. Yet, that love gave the world a lot of works of genius by Modigliani, with Beatrice Hastings being the muse. During the same period Modigliani painted the best portraits of his relatives and friends.

When she came to Paris, Beatrice Hastings rented a modest apartment at #53 Rue de Montparnasse of two rooms with gas and water supply for 75 francs per month. Brancusi and Lipchitz had their studios across the street. After her affair with Modigliani began, Beatrice decided to have a different housing arrangement. She moved to Montmartre, where she rented a small house with a garden. Her new abode was really remarkable: four rooms and a kitchen, a large sitting-room, a study and a hothouse. Two rooms overlooked the garden. The sitting-room had a tiled stove that heated the room. Her own room, with a gray carpet, Chinese lamps, piano, two sofas, two armchairs, books, flowers and a fireplace, was nothing like Paris. Modigliani’s studio was nearby: his art dealer (!) had rented it for the artist from early 1915. Modi remained true to his habits – he continued going to La Rotonde to mingle with  old friends. However, to see Modi’s new sculptures, friends went to Beatrice’s, and it was in her “studio” that Modi painted portraits of his friends.

 

hastings 7 602x1024 Modigliani’s Women. Beatrice Hastings

 

For four years from 1910 on Modi engaged primarily in modeling and only infrequently reversed to painting. With the outbreak of the war, however, new construction ceased in Paris and it became practically impossible to obtain stone. Modigliani’s final return to painting coincided with the beginning of his affair with Beatrice Hastings. Modi resumed painting and began to experiment with colored drawing and polychrome sculpture, no sample of which has unfortunately survived. Modigliani painted Beatrice at the piano, Beatrice at the door, Beatrice with her strange hats and with her hair parted in the middle, combed back or let down. He inscribed the corner of one his canvases with: “Madame Pompadour”. The number of portraits of Beatrice Hastings can only compare with that of the works where Jeanne Hébuterne was the sitter.

 

hastings 8 813x1024 Modigliani’s Women. Beatrice Hastings

 

Like all of Modigliani’s previous mistresses, Beatrice became the model for countless canvases and drawings, but among them all she alone was a true intellectual with her own view of art. Books, poems, words and theories became the subject of their debates and differences. Beatrice was very disparaging about Modigliani’s favorite poets: she believed that Lautréamont was just as harmful as drugs. She preferred Rossetti and Milton, to whom Amedeo was indifferent.

She was a dangerous type of superintellectual. Her refined appearance camouflaged jealousy for talent, vindictiveness, ill will and a tendency to manipulate people, words and ideas, as was fully manifest in the end of her life. Yet, if you read her article and memoirs, you’ll find it impossible even today to resist the intellect and charm of that sarcastic woman! She was indisputably a master of the paradox!

 

hastings 9 Modigliani’s Women. Beatrice Hastings

 

In every way Beatrice sought to stress her independence and, what was more, attempted to dominate people. To boost her self-confidence she entered into a relationship with another Italian sculptor, Alfredo Pina, which was something that Modigliani, with his purely Latin attitude to women, could not tolerate.

The affair between Beatrice Hastings and Modigliani lasted for two years and ended on her initiative. This coincided with the end of her career at The New Age – her last publication is dated August 10, 1916. After severing her business relations with Orage, Beatrice decided to stay abroad. She visited relatives, traveled, then moved to southern France and wrote into the desk drawer. After living in the French backwaters and Switzerland, Beatrice returned to Britain in 1931. She wrote caustic pamphlets about her former colleagues and was especially harsh on Orage. Modigliani was the only one to escape her barbs. Having quarreled with all and everyone, Beatrice reverted to theosophy and confined herself to a narrow coterie of her admirers.

 

hastings 10 Modigliani’s Women. Beatrice Hastings

 

In 1943 Beatrice Hastings gassed herself. Her favorite pet, a white mouse, lay next to her. She bequeathed her literary oeuvres to any library that would be the first to claim them, unless they were taken by the British Museum, to which she had offered them three months before her death. No evidence has survived about the transfer of her archive to the British Museum library. She also willed to be cremated and have her ashes  scattered to the wind.

Beatrice Hastings is, beyond doubt, known primarily as Amedeo Modigliani’s muse. She was the prototype of the character of the famous novel Les Innocents, written by Francis Carco in 1916. Jean Cocteau, from whom Hastings took away a lover, the young poet Raymond Radiguet (1903-1923), who died of typhus, portrayed her in his novel The White Book (Le Livre Blanc). She was photographed by Man Ray, and her house was visited by Fernand Léger, Maurice Utrillo, Gino Severini, Raoul Dufy and other artists.

Literary writings of Beatrice Hastings are all but forgotten and hard to find. However, in 2004 Stephen Gray of South Africa published a large biography, Beatrice Hastings: A Literary Life, which had taken him 20 years to research and write and which immediately became a bibliographical rarity.

 

 

SOURCES:

Pierre Siechel. Modigliani, A Biography of Amedeo Modigliani, E.P. Dutton & Co, Inc., NY, 1967.

Billy Klüver, Julie Martin. Kiki’s Paris: Artists and Lovers 1900-1930. Harry N.Abrams, Inc., New York, 1994

http://www.amazon.com/Beatrice-Hastings-Literary-Life-ebook/dp/B00A8YIIHU#reader_B00A8YIIHU