Suzanne Valadon

Marie-Clémentine Valade, better known as Suzanne Valadon, was born in 1865. In 1970, she arrived in Paris with her mother, a laundress, and moved to the Montmartre district. Valadon’s father being absent, her mother had to take on odd jobs to make ends meet. She therefore had no real time to devote to her daughter, whom she ended up entrusting to a monastery in Montmartre. The young girl nevertheless attended classes in a religious school, which she soon left. She too multiplied small jobs and tried to realize her dream: to become an acrobat. Unfortunately, she suffered serious injuries following a fall that put an early end to her career. By this time, the artist was already drawing for entertainment. She really began to discover this art from the moment she posed for great artists, which allowed her to observe them. It is thanks to her mother that she met the painter Puvis de Chavannes, to whom she ironed her clothes. From 1880 onwards, Valadon posed for him, then for Toulouse-Lautrec, Jean-Jacques Henner and Renoir, with whom she had a loving relationship. It was a way for her to earn a living. She also frequented the Parisian Bohemian milieu and met many partners. At the age of 18, she gave birth to her son, whose father was unknown and who would become a famous artist: Maurice Utrillo (1883 – 1955). It is from this moment that she will start to really practice drawing and later painting. Toulouse-Lautrec, friend and lover, discovers the artist’s talent and advises her to show her creations to Degas, who becomes her master and patron. Like him, she will make many portraits, which will become her favourite format. Her eventful life gives her little time and means to devote to her son, whom she entrusts to her mother. In 1992, Valadon married Paul Mousis, who brought her financial stability, allowing her to devote herself to her art. She also began to exhibit. The critics are good, but she does not sell enough to make a living from it. She tries to transmit her passion for painting to her son who suffers from alcoholism and deep melancholy. In 1914, Valadon leaves her husband and marries her son’s dear friend André Utter. The three of them form a famous cursed trio. She interrupts the practice of painting during the First World War. The sale of Utrillo’s works, which reach very high prices, allows the trio to live easily. The sales of those of Valadon are almost non-existent. However, his friendship with the art dealer Berthe Weill was a solid asset in making his art known. The latter organized many exhibitions and retrospectives, including an important one in 1932, for the benefit of the artist. At the end of his life, his production declined. She finally died in 1938.

Suzanne Valadon’s work was not a great commercial success during her lifetime. However, her talent is recognized by her contemporaries. Her style is very recognizable: black lines and contours very present, bright colors sometimes almost fawn. She was the first woman to be admitted to the Société nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1994 and exhibited on numerous occasions, notably at the famous Salon d’automne in Paris. The work of her son, who also became a great name in painting, tended to overshadow her. His works were nevertheless rediscovered and aroused new interest from the end of the 20th century. His works are exhibited in major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris. Today Valadon has a real standing on the art market and represents a true female icon of modern art.

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