Suzanne Valadon French, 1865-1938


Suzanne Valadon was originally born Marie-Clémentine Valadon on September 23, 1865 at Bessines-sur-Gartempe, near Limoges, in France, the illegitimate daughter of a French laundress. She lived much of her life in the French artist’s village of Montmartre.  During her lifetime she was seen as an outcast and as an extreme individual who took all sorts of odd jobs from the age of 10 to support herself. She was a milliner’s apprentice, a waitress, a nanny, and an acrobat for the Mollier Circus until at the age of 16 she fell off a trapeze.  Because she desired a profession that was less prone to injury, she decided to become an artist’s model, capitalizing on her great beauty and her athletic build. She went on to pose for such artists as Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, all of whom became her lovers at one time or another. She also became friends with such other well known artists as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, and Amadeo Modigliani. While modeling for various artists, Valadon paid careful attention to their manner of painting as well as to the construction of their canvasses.  Without any formal training at all Suzanne Valadon began to paint on her own.  One of the first people to see her work was Toulouse-Lautrec, who greatly liked what he saw and encouraged her to continue to pursue painting as a career.  Another early supporter was her friend Edgar Degas. In 1894 she became the first woman to be admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. A perfectionist, Suzanne Valadon worked for thirteen years on her oil paintings before ever showing them. After numerous affairs, a few failed marriages, and great difficulties with her alcoholic son and well-known artist Maurice Utrillo, Valadon began to paint seriously in 1909 when she was already 44 years old. She painted portraits, landscapes, still lifes and especially female nudes. Her images are unforgettable with their vibrant and powerful colors reminiscent of the Post-Impressionistic and Fauve styles. The bohemian and unconventional style of Valadon’s paintings captured the attention of the bourgeois society and was cause for much uproar at the time.  The acclaim that she is rewarded with today was very slow in coming during her lifetime. Although her work was not always looked upon with approval, her audacity coupled with her daring nature finally won her a solo exhibition in 1915 which was both critically and commercially received.  Valadon had four major retrospectives during her lifetime and became one of the most outstanding women artists in the School of Paris. She exhibited often with her son Maurice Utrillo and her second husband fellow André Utter. Suzanne Valadon died on April 7, 1937. She was buried on April 19, 1938 in Cimetière de Saint-Ouen in Paris. Her funeral was attended by many notable figures from the Parisian art community including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braques and Andre Derain

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