In his 1917 portrait of Hélène Joséphine Bernier Povolozky (1882-1979), Amedeo Modigliani harmoniously combined elegant line and melancholy spirit with is by-then-expert technical facility. The cool palette and strong plastic modeling of the face through color modulation signal Modigliani’s mastery of the lessons of Cézanne; the mood of wistful sadness, characteristic of the late portraits, shows him at the height of his powers.
Povolozky came to Paris from Reims to pursue her own career as an artist, which brought her into contact with the expatriate artists of prewar Montparnasse, including Modigliani, Picasso, and Soutine. In 1911 she met and married a Russian émigré, Jacques Povolozky, a bookstore and gallery owner in Saint-Germain. They played an active role in the Parisian art world and hosted exhibitions of many avant-garde artists. A loyal and generous friend, Mme Povolozky provided both Modigliani and Soutine with food and money and frequently received them in her home. In return, Modigliani gave her this portrait, which may have been executed in a studio rented from Modigliani’s dealer, Léopold Zborowski.