Suzanne Valadon – French painter (1865-1938)
Suzanne Valadon was born Marie-Clementine Valadon in 1865. The daughter of an unmarried laundress, life was tough and a young Valadon often had to worked small jobs in Paris to earn little money. At the age of 15 she joined the circus as an acrobat, but a year later had a terrible fall that prevented her return.
After recovering from her fall she decided to pursue a career in the arts. With little education she first worked as a model for well-known artists like Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir. She would take many of them on as lovers and learned how to draw and paint by observing their painting techniques. Toulouse-Lautrec saw her artistic potential and would encourage her by giving her lessons and later introduced her to Edgar Degas, who also saw her talent and purchased many of her drawings. Degas and Valadon would remain close friends until Degas death. She is featured in many of Renoir’s most loved paintings and Toulous-lautrecs famous “the Hangover”.
Valadon was a free and untamed spirit. She became well known for her antics and hanging out at the bars with the guys. She would were a corsage of carrots instead of flowers and kept a goat in her studio supposedly to eat up her bad drawings.
In 1883 Valadon gave birth to her son and famed artist, Maurice (Valadon) Utrillo. The father is unknown and many of her artistic lovers were suspected, including Renoir. Miguel Utrillo later claimed Valadon’s son as his – possibly to remain in France – and later in life Maurice choose to use Utrillo as his surname.
Valadon’s experience as a model herself gave her a deeper understanding the human form that many of the other male artists lacked. While talented artists like Chavannes paintings were and looked very staged, Valadon’s paintings showed her models more relaxed, ‘in the moment’ and completely honest. She did not romanticize the female nude as an allegorical subject. She depicted them, her models, as they were.
Her raw talents earned her a place as the first female artist to be exhibited in the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts – an annual exhibit formed from the union of two major groups of artists in 19th century France.
After rejecting a proposal from famed composer Erik Satie – who reportedly composed ‘Vexations’ after she broke his heart – Valadon married a wealthy stockbroker, Paul Mousis, and was able to stop modeling to focus her attention on painting when she was not playing the role of “conventional wife”. But the marriage was not to last due to an affair she had with one of her son’s friends around 1906.
Later in her career she became more prolific with her painting and enjoyed critical acclaim but not so much in sales of her work. Over time as her son, Maurice, career flourish and somewhat overshadowed her own. But she continued working until the end.
Valadon died from a stroke in 1938.
I remember very clearly seeing her painting “the Blue Room” in art history class. I didn’t know much about Valadon at the time and my professor didn’t expand too much on her life or artwork, but I immediately fell in love with her bold markings and use of color. What I saw different about her work then and from what I have read about her for this post is that she was able to paint the vulnerability and intimacy of a woman with her clothes on. Not that I have any problem with the female nude, I have drawn it myself often and find plenty of beauty with the female form; but nudity is not a woman’s only beauty to be captured artistically and Valadon succeeded in proving that with “The Blue Room”
For more detailed information about Suzanne Valadon I suggest checking out the below links.