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Suzanne Valadon

 (1865 - 1938)
Suzanne Valadon was active/lived in France.  Suzanne Valadon is known for figure, landscape and still-life painting.

Suzanne Valadon

    va-lah-doh(n)    click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

A French painter of figures, still life, floral art and landscape, and the first female artist to be admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Suzanne Valadon specialized in modernist figure work in oil and pastel.  She was such a perfectionist that it was not unusual for her to wait more than ten years before releasing a work from her studio.  Unlike many artists working at the same time, she was financially successful during her lifetime.  She broke tradition with her figure painting in that she often depicted unglamorous female nude figures, homely women, who obviously had no interest in attracting men and were just having a good time being who they were.  Her forms were strongly delineated, brightly colored, deliberately distorted physically and positioned awkwardly.

Valadon had a life of scandal.  She was born with the name of Marie-Clémentine Valadon, and later changed her name to Suzanne Valadon, alleging that she was a foundling.  In fact, she was 'illegitimate' and raised in poverty as her mother was an unmarried laundress.  They moved to Paris, when she was five and lived in the bohemian section called Montmartre.  As a child she worked with her mother doing washing and worked as a nanny, and at age fifteen became a circus acrobat.  However, a fall the next year from a trapeze and serious injury ended that activity.

She had been around the Montmartre section of Paris with artists several years before the trapeze performing, and while her mother was at work, had done numerous charcoal drawings that received praise.  After the accident, she, who was strikingly beautiful, did nude modeling for artists from whom she learned techniques for her own painting.  Among her artist-mentors were Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri-Toulouse Lautrec and Pierre-Cecile Puvis de Chavannes.  Reportedly she had affairs with de Chavannes and Renoir for whom she posed in his paintings Dance at Bougival and City Dance.  He also painted her portrait, Suzanne Valadon.  Degas encouraged her talents and purchased paintings from her, and Toulouse-Lautrec painted her as the subject in The Hangover, 1889.

In the early 1890s, her works were first shown publicly in exhibitions, and they were primarily portraits.  One of the subjects was the composer, Eric Satie, with whom she had an affair in 1893.  Satie wanted to marry her, but she, a free spirit, did not accept the offer made on their first night together.  Her refusal reportedly left him heart broken and with a future barren of further intimate relationships.   However, it was not until 1909, when she was age 44, that she devoted full time to painting, and in 1911, she had her first one-person exhibition.

Known as a truly unique character, Valadon wore corsages of carrots, had a pet goat in the studio to munch on her 'bad' drawings, and fed caviar to her 'Catholic' cats on Fridays.  In 1896 for financial security, she married a stockbroker, Paul Mousis, but left him thirteen years later for André Utter, a man half her age.  She was 44, and he was 23.

Valadon died at age 73 on April 7, 1938, and is buried in the Cimetiére de Saint-Ouen in Paris.

Surviving was a son, Maurice Valadon, who took the name of Maurice Utrillo and as an artist, became more famous than his mother.  He had been born on Christmas Day of 1883, and because of the wishes of the mother, the name of the father was never generally known.  It was perpetuated by Valadon that the father was Utrillo, a Spanish writer and author of a biography of El Greco.  However, it is written by art historians that, in fact, the last name of the father was Boissy, an unknown painter.

Valadon had trouble raising her son because he had mental problems that led to alcohol addiction at an early age and also to periods of being in mental institutions.  He left school at age 17, and to try to help with his afflictions, she successfully encouraged his art talents.  

Nancy Heller, Women Artists, Works from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, p. 133

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About  Suzanne Valadon

Born:  1865
Died:   1938 - Paris, France
Known for:  figure, landscape and still-life painting