Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo - Artists of Montmartre
Suzanne Valadon - Wikimedia Commons
Suzanne Valadon and her son Maurice Utrillo were famous French artists. He was noted for his urban scenes of Montmartre in Paris and she for her nudes.When Suzanne Valadon died in 1938, she died as unconventionally as she had lived. Formerly a poor shop girl from Bessines, she spent the last years of her life painting at Chateau Beaujolais, a medieval stronghold built by the Knights Templar.
Marie Clementine Valadon Begins Her Career
In 1865,Marie Clementine Valadon was born the illegitimate daughter of a seamstress. In 1938 when Suzanne Valadon died, luminaries of the Paris art world including Georges Braque, Andre Derain, and Pablo Picasso attended her funeral. Marie Clementine had no paintings to hang on the wall of her home in Paris, but today Suzanne Valadon’s works hang in the Musee de Beaux Arts and the Metropolitan Museum.
From the time she turned nine years old, Marie Clementine Valadon took charge of her life and supported herself. For a time in her youth she dreamed of a career as a circus acrobat and actively pursued that dream until at age sixteen, she fell off a trapeze and injured her back.
Seeking a safer career, she turned to modeling for artists, posing for such noted painters as Pierre Auguste Renoir and Henri Toulouse Lautrec. Marie's lively and restless intelligence soon took her beyond mere modeling to carefully observing the artistic techniques of her employers and creating her own paintings. Toulouse Lautrec advised Marie to change her first name to Suzanne and he introduced her to the master painter Degas, who encouraged her to paint, taught her technique, and bought three of her paintings in 1893.
Marie Changes Her Name to Suzanne and Exhibits Her Paintings
In 1894, Suzanne Valadon became the first woman to exhibit her paintings at the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts, which was a major accomplishment for a French artist, especially a female artist.
Painting landscapes, still lifes and nudes with her vibrant and powerful colors, Suzanne Valadon anticipated the Fauvist Movement by at least a decade and influenced the Post Impressionist style. Her style of painting the nude female body liberated many women and painters from passive to active portrayals of the feminine body and role in society.
Suzanne is Unconventional in Her Personal Life, Too
She had her first one person exhibition in 1915, which scored a critical and commercial success. She continued to be friendly with famous artists of her time, including Degas who was a lifelong friend, and Vincent van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso and Modigliani.
As unconventional in her personal life as she was in her art, Suzanne had affairs with the painter Puvis de Chavannes, the composer Erik Satie and the banker Paul Mousis. She was married to Mousis for several years, and then she left him for Andre Utter, a fellow painter and friend of her son and 21 years her junior. They had several joint art exhibitions and he also posed for a number of Valadon's works, including the painting Adam and Eve.
Suzanne's Son Maurice Valadon Utrillo
Suzanne’s experience as a mother proved to be just as paradoxical as her experience as an artist. Her son Maurice was born in Paris in 1883 when she was just eighteen years old. Suzanne never revealed the father of Maurice, but there is some speculation that he was an amateur painter and chronic alcoholic, named Boissy. She left Maurice with her mother to raise while she pursued her career.
In 1888, when Maurice was five, Suzanne married Paul Mousis, a Paris importer, and stayed married to him until 1909. Although Paul Mousis didn’t give Maurice Valadon Boissy his name, he did pay for his stepson’s education and helped him out of numerous scrapes. In 1891, Suzanne’s friend, writer and artist Miguel Utrillo gave Maurice his name, but Maurice Utrillo never liked his legal name.
Maurice wasn’t a good student or successful bank clerk. By the time he turned eighteen he had become an alcoholic and had to be committed to an asylum. His mother Suzanne encouraged him to paint as a way to gain his balance and like his mother, he discovered that he had a hidden talent for painting. He produced thousands of oils, water colors, and pencil sketches, especially of Montmartre, the old, picturesque and quiet artist’s quarter of Paris as it looked before World War I. Since he was devoted to his mother, he signed most of his canvases Maurice Utrillo V. – for Valadon.
Mother Love and Art
Maurice Utrillo showed his tendencies toward alcoholism early in his life. Tavern keepers who ply him with brandy, lock, him in a back room, and make him pay by painting pictures for them. His paintings sold for thousands of dollars. Finally, Suzanne spirited him away from Paris to the country, to the Chateau Beaujolais, the castle of the Knights Templar.
She fitted out a studio for herself in one turret and a studio for her son, in another. For a few quiet years she nursed him back to health with mother love and art. Artist Amedeo Modigliani was his close friend and encouraged him as well. Maurice Utrillo painted so well that the French Government awarded him the Legion of Honor.
By 1920 he had gained an international reputation and in 1929, the French Republic awarded him the Cross of the Legion of Honor. In 1935, he married Lucie Pauwels, a widow who collected art, and she managed his finances so well that they bought a home Paris. Under the watchful guidance of his mother and then, his wife, Maurice Utrillo managed to retrieve much of his artistic talent. He also learned to play the piano, wrote music and poetry and traveled around France with his wife. He died in November 1955.
The paintings of both Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo became world famous. Art critics still debate which of the two was the better artist, but there is no debate about their devotion to each other and to their art.
Rose, June, Suzanne Valadon: The Mistress of Montmartre, St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Rosinsky, Therese D., Suzanne Valadon, Universe Publishers, 1994.