Maurice Utrillo, the painter of Montmartre
Maurice Utrillo’s life was largely influenced by that of his mother who is none other than Suzanne Valadon the painter, and Montmartre where he was born just after the Christmas of 1883. Maurice, a child of the butte painted it tirelessly even more than other painters of his generation. His grandmother, a washerwoman, raised the young Maurice as his mother was barely 18 when he was born.
The family settled in rue Cortot in 1899 and lived in relatively difficult conditions. At the age of 18, Maurice Utrillo suffered from alcoholism, which was a recurrent problem throughout his life despite various treatment and periods of remission. During his treatment at the asylum, Doctor Etlinger suggested that Suzanne teach Utrillo to draw. This therapy was beneficial and helped to reveal the extent of his talent.
Maurice Utrillo painted the café ‘Le Chat sans queue” and ‘La guinguette’, then, little by little he began to paint regularly. From 1907 he began to live from his painting and entered into his ‘white period’, plaster, glue, zinc…
It lasted until the First World War and was followed by his ‘coloured period’ where bright and happy tones predominate with a more affirmed stroke. Alternating between quiet and troublesome moments, Maurice Utrillo was influenced by his friend André Utter, with whom Suzanne Valadon fell head over heels in love. Utter managed the family and pushed Maurice to produce a lot of work. Hospitalized again in 1925 for alcohol treatment, Utrillo spent the summer in Brittany. His painting was finally recognised and he received the Légion d’Honneur distinction in 1929.
Maurice Utrillo found love with Lucie Pawels, the widow of a Belgian banker who was a collector of Utrillo’s work. Suzanne Valadon, always present in Utrillo’s life, encouraged them to marry in 1935. Initiated by her husband and mother-in-law she too began to paint under the name Lucie Valore. The couple settled in Vésinet and Utrillo found the calm very helpful for painting as it was far from the temptations that had often made him stumble. In 1938 Suzanne Valadon died leaving a large hole in his existence.
Aged 65, Maurice Utrillo was a broken man who had used almost all his talent and his liberating or redeeming energy in his paintings. Celebrated by both the critics and the public, Utrillo became a sort of ambassador for French painting and had an official reception with President Auriol and was the hero of a documentary about his life called ‘The dramatic life of Maurice Utrillo’.
Maurice Utrillo died in Dax where he was holidaying in 1955 aged 71. He was buried in his childhood neighbourhood in Montmartre cemetery opposite the Lapin Agile. Despite his highs and lows, his setbacks and excesses, Maurice Utrillo was quick to be noticed both for his personal talent and his market value. Utrillo’s first merchant was Louis Libaude, whom he met via the intermediary of Georges Manzana-Pissarro (the son of Camille Pissarro and himself a painter). Berthe Weil, Paul Guillaume and Bernheim Jeune thereafter exhibited him.
Often copied for his scenes in Montmartre, Maurice Utrillo is nevertheless a unique painter, unclassifiable, whose landscapes (houses, streets, villages, churches) have a view of this timeless France that has always captivated collectors.