Today, I thought I'd write about a woman artist that, perhaps, many have heard little about. As it was in history, a woman's life revolved around the hearth, the family, extended family, and life as an artist was frowned upon unless it had to do with the duties of home-life. Women could take up the paintbrush and easel as a pastime skill, but for the most part, they were not taken as seriously as men artists and poets of the day.
One of my favorite painters is Suzanne Valadon (1867-1938). This portrait (above) was painted by Renoir of the model/artist in 1885. Here he created a soft beauty of the woman with the faraway eyes that seem to be peering through whatever she is looking
upon. He portrays her in almost an ethereal state. It's a far cry from the way she viewed herself (right) in her own self-portrait, or how her son, artist Maurice Utrillo, whom she taught to paint, created her (left).
Both depict a more subtly hardened appearance; a deeply complex and darker personality.
Valadon was never formally trained. Her work developed independently during the Post impressionism period. As other artists of the day saw her potential as just a model, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec saw her as one of them when they viewed her work. She was a rebel in her day, an exquisite rebel who wanted to imitate the life of the famed Medieval rascal poet, Francios Villon (1431). (Villon became a student of arts in Paris. Although a brilliant youngster, it is written that Villon preferred to lead a loose life, and that he continued to live this way - a reckless way of living common among the wilder youth of the University of Paris.) Suzanne Valadron imagined him to be her hero/father figure and even called herself "Mademoiselle Villon!" She saw herself as a rouguish, saucy gal who roamed the streets. She procured her first job in a circus as a flying trapeze artist, until she fell. Then she began to model at artists' studios. She knew immediately it was to be her vocation. She wrote:
"I remember the first sitting I did. I remember saying to myself over and over again, 'This is it! This is it!' Over and over. I said it all day. I did not know why. But I knew that I was somewhere at last that I should never leave."
She was able to achieve an affluent lifestyle being 'kept' by a a wealthy banker. She would feed her cats caviar on Fridays, and ride through Butte in her light carriage drawn by a mule. Her mule was trimmed in little brass bells and silk ribbons, mane and tail. Beside her a caged parrot sat, as well as two wolfhounds at her feet.
As she carried on another affair with a composer, the banker moved her to the suburbs, but Suzanne could not be 'kept'. She moved back to the Butte studio with her son and his friend, painter Andre Utter, who became her lover in 1909. Twenty years younger than she, they married in 1914, and he managed their painting careers and brought in a good living. Valadon was known for her portraits, but then turned to landscapes, still lifes, and nudes. The female nudes shocked at the time, because they were painted in an unashamed way
After her marriage to Utter, she was able to gain recognition as a serious artist before and after the war, with her obvious talent, flamboyancy and such neighbors as, Georges Braque, Gino Severini, Raoul Duly and best friend Amedo Modigliani. It is written that Suzanne Valadron kept a goat in her studio in Butte to "eat up her bad drawings".
The marriage to Utter did not last, and she lived her last years cared for by a young man named Gazi.
Works by Suzanne Valadon
Suzanne Valadon by Renoir
Suzanne Valadon by
Toulouse-Lautrec Valadon by Steinien
Photograph of the artist Suzanne Valadon