Suzanne VALADON (1865-1938)

Born as Marie-Clémente Valade (her real name) in 1865, Suzanne Valadon was the daughter of a washerwoman. She was a circus acrobat in her youth until a fall brutally ended her career. She became pregnant aged 18 with the future Maurice Utrillo. It was not clear who the father was but paternity was recognised by the painter Miguel Utrillo.

She lived in Montmartre at the beginning of the century and mixed with painters. Her beauty attracted many of them such as Puvis de Chavannes, Renoir, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, for whom she modelled. The latter painted a portrait of her called ‘The Drinker’. Her physique was not her only asset however and Degas encouraged her in her drawing which helped her to persevere. While leading a somewhat dissolute life, after the ‘father’ of Maurice Utrillo, she married a change agent in 1896 and another marriage to a painter, André Utter, twenty years her junior followed in 1914.

She painted him in her painting Adam and Eve. After a turbulent love life, Suzanne Valadon died surrounded by her friends André Derain, Picasso and Braque in 1938, finally recognized for her talent – her still lifes, bouquets and portraits. A liberated woman and perfectionist, Suzanne Valadon did not hesitate to toil on her paintings, continuously working on some of them for years. Suzanne Valadon’s work is exhibited in many museums – the Pompidou Centre, the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, the Met in New York. She was the first woman admitted to the National Society for Fine Art. Capable of simplifying her drawing to capture the essence of her model with an economy of means, Suzanne Valadon was both an emancipated student of Lautrec and the heiress of Renoir, with grace and a concise figurative style.

Attached to the intimate essence of her subject, she refused superfluous lines, preferring the characteristic austerity of her own uncompromising style. The result is there – work that resembled her, strong and uncompromising but full of direct emotion.