Musée de Montmartre, 12 Rue Cortot, 75018 Paris, France
Cimetière Parisien de Saint-Ouen Saint-Ouen, Departement de Seine-Saint-Denis, Île-de-France, France
Suzanne Valadon (23 September 1865 – 7 April 1938) was a French painter and artists' model who was born Marie-Clémentine Valadon at Bessines-sur-Gartempe, Haute-Vienne, France. In 1894, Valadon became the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. She was also the mother of painter Maurice Utrillo. The subjects of her drawings and paintings included mostly female nudes, female portraits, still lifes, and landscapes. She never attended the academy and was never confined within a tradition. Valadon spent nearly 40 years of her life as an artist.
Valadon grew up in poverty with her mother, an unmarried laundress; she did not know her father. Known to be quite independent and rebellious, she attended primary school until age 11.
She began working at age 11 in a variety of areas including a milliner's workshop, a factory making funeral wreaths, a market selling vegetables, a waitress, and then finally in the circus. At the age of 15 Valadon met Count Antoine de la Rochefoucauld and Thèo Wagner, two symbolist painters who were involved in decorating a circus belonging to Medrano. Through this connection she began work at the Mollier circus as an acrobat until she fell from a trapeze after a year of work. The circus was frequented by artists such as Lautrec, Sescau and Berthe Morisot and this may be where Morisot did her painting of Valadon.
It is commonly believed that Valadon taught herself how to draw at the age of nine. In the Montmartre quarter of Paris, she pursued her interest in art, first working as a model for artists, observing and learning their techniques, before becoming a noted painter herself.
Valadon debuted as a model in 1880 in Montmartre at age 15. She modeled for over 10 years for many different artists including Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Théophile Steinlen, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jean-Jacques Henner, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. She modeled under the name "Maria" before being nicknamed "Suzanne" by Toulouse-Lautrec, after the biblical story of Susanna and the Elders as he felt that she especially liked modeling for older artists. For two years, she was Toulouse-Lautrec's lover until her attempted suicide in 1888.
Valadon helped to educate herself in art by observing the artists at work for whom she posed. She was considered a very focused, ambitious, rebellious, determined, self-confident, and passionate woman. In the early 1890s, she befriended Edgar Degas who, impressed with her bold line drawings and fine paintings, purchased her work and encouraged her; she remained one of his closest friends until his death. Art historian Heather Dawkins believed that Valadon's experience as a model added depth to her own images of nude women, which tended to be less idealized than that of the male post impressionists representations.
The most recognizable image of Valadon would be in Renoir's Dance at Bougival from 1883, the same year that she posed for Dance in the City. In 1885, Renoir painted her portrait again as Girl Braiding Her Hair. Another of his portraits of her in 1885, Suzanne Valadon, is of her head and shoulders in profile. Valadon frequented the bars and taverns of Paris with her fellow painters, and she was Toulouse-Lautrec's subject in his oil painting The Hangover.
Valadon began painting full-time in 1896. She painted still lifes, portraits, flowers, and landscapes that are noted for their strong composition and vibrant colors. She was, however, best known for her candid female nudes that depict women's bodies from a woman's perspective. Her work attracted attention partly because, as a woman painting unidealized nudes, she upset the social norms of the time.
Valadon's earliest surviving signed and dated work is a self-portrait from 1883, drawn in charcoal and pastel. She produced mostly drawings between 1883 and 1893, and began painting in 1892. Her first models were family members, especially her son, mother, and niece. Her earliest known female nude was executed in 1892. In 1895, the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel exhibited a group of twelve etchings by Valadon that show women in various stages of their toilettes. Later, she regularly showed at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris. Valadon's first time in the Salon de la Nationale was in 1894. She also exhibited in the Salon d'Automne from 1909, Salon des Independants from 1911; Salon des Femmes Artistes Modernes, 1933-1938. Degas was notably the first person to buy drawings from her, and he also introduced her to other collectors, including Paul Durand-Ruel and Ambroise Vollard. Degas also taught her the skill of soft-ground etching.
In 1896, Valadon became a full-time painter after her marriage to the well-to-do banker Paul Mousis. She made a shift from drawing to painting starting in 1909. Her first large oils for the Salon related to sexual pleasure, and they were some of the first examples in painting for the man to be an object of desire by a woman. These notable Salon paintings include Adam and Eve (Adam et Eve) (1909), Joy of Life (La Joie de vivre) (1911), and Casting the Net (Lancement du filet) (1914). In her lifetime time, Valadon produced around 273 drawings, 478 paintings, and 31 etchings, excluding pieces given away or destroyed.
Valadon was well known during her lifetime, especially towards the end of her career. Her works are in the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Grenoble, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among others.
Valadon was not confined to a specific style, yet both Symbolist and Post-Impressionist aesthetics are clearly seen within her work. She worked primarily with oil paint, oil pencils, pastels, and red chalk; she did not use ink or watercolor because these mediums were too fluid for her preference. Valadon's paintings feature rich colors and bold, open brushwork often featuring firm black lines to define and outline her figures.
Valadon's self-portraits, portraits, nudes, landscapes, and still lifes remain detached from trends and aspects of academic art. The subjects of Valadon's paintings often reinvent the old masters' themes: women bathing, reclining nudes, and interior scenes. She preferred to paint working-class models. Art historian Patricia Mathews suggests that Valadon's working-class status and experience as a model influenced her intimate, familiar observation of these women's bodies. In this respect she differed from Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt, who painted mostly women, but "remained well within the bounds of propriety in their subject matter" because of their upper-middle-class status in French society. Valadon's marginalized status allowed her to enter the male domain of art through modeling, and her lack of formal academic training may have made her feel more comfortable breaking with convention. She has been considered a transgressor as a woman painting the nude female body. She resisted typical depictions of women via their class and supposed sexuality through her use of unidealised and self-possessed bodies that are not overly sexualised. She also painted many nude self-portraits across the span of her career, the later of which displayed her aging body.
Valadon emphasised the importance of composition of her portraits over painting expressive eyes. Her later works, such as Blue Room (1923), are brighter in color and show a new emphasis on decorative backgrounds and patterned materials.
In 1883, aged 18, Valadon gave birth to a son, Maurice Utrillo. Valadon's mother cared for Maurice while she returned to modelling. Valadon's friend Miguel Utrillo would later sign papers recognizing Maurice as his son, although his true paternity is uncertain.
In 1893, Valadon began a short-lived affair with composer Erik Satie, moving to a room next to his on the Rue Cortot. Satie became obsessed with her, calling her his Biqui, writing impassioned notes about "her whole being, lovely eyes, gentle hands, and tiny feet", but after six months she left, leaving him devastated. Valadon married the stockbroker Paul Mousis in 1895, living with him for 13 years in an apartment in Paris and in a house in the outlying region. In 1909, Valadon began an affair with the painter André Utter, the 23-year-old friend of her son, divorcing Moussis in 1913. Valadon married Utter in 1914, and he managed her career as well as her son's. Valadon and Utter regularly exhibited work together until the couple divorced in 1934.
As one of the best documented French artists of the early 20th century, Valadon's body of work has been of great interest to feminist art historians, especially given her focus on the female form. Her work was candid and occasionally awkward, often characterized by strong lines, and her resistance to both academic and avant-garde conventions for representing the female nude have encouraged interest in her work:
It has been argued that many of her images of women signal a form of resistance to some of the dominant representations of female sexuality in early 20th-century Western art. Many of her nudes painted from the 1910s onwards are heavily proportioned and sometimes awkwardly posed. They are conspicuously at odds with the svelte, 'feminine' type to be found in the imagery of both popular and 'high' art.
Suzanne Valadon died of a stroke on April 7, 1938, at age 72, and was buried in the Cimetière de Saint-Ouen in Paris. Among those in attendance at her funeral were her friends and colleagues André Derain, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque.
A novel based on the life of Suzanne Valadon was written by Elaine Todd Koren and was published in 2001, entitled Suzanne: of Love and Art. See also Suzanne Valadon. An earlier novel by Sarah Baylis, entitled Utrillo's Mother, was published first in England and later in the United States. Timberlake Wertenbaker's play, The Line (2009), traces the relationship between Valadon and Degas. Valadon was the basis for the character Suzanne Rouvier in the novel The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham.
Both an asteroid (6937 Valadon) and a crater on Venus are named in her honor.
The small square at the base of the Montmartre funicular in Paris is named Place Suzanne Valadon. At the top of the funicular, and less than 50 meters to its east, are the steps named rue Maurice Utrillo after her son the artist.
Musée de Montmartre, established in the building in which Valadon had an apartment and studio.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGEBACK TO HOME PAGE