Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Another Peek at History ~ Susan Valadon

Well, spending a week with my new book on the life of Suzanne Valadon, it has been the most wonderful, historical and enlightening time that I've spent in a while. So sorry I haven't posted, but I can't tell you how the late 1800's, turn of the century and WWI came alive through this writer, who really researched this first Bohemian woman artist. I had scanned two books on the artist, deciding which to purchase. One seemed too romanticized and novel-ish and I wanted a more factual researched based piece. Well, I was not disappointed with June Ross, "The Mistress of Montmarte". I was taken away with it to a time and place when the Impressionists, the Fauves, and Modernists made the scene in France. This was a woman with no fear, no self-consciousness about her modeling, her body, her art, or the way she chose to live her life; much of her life being a struggle with a problem son, an aging mother, illness, two marriages, exhibiting and selling, WWI, but you never get a hint that she was unhappy. She lived her life the way she chose to. She had "moxie". Although not the "mothering" type, nor the stay at home wife, the child was left in the care of the grandmother, but Suzanne was the sole support of the little troupe before her first marriage and after it hit bottom. She longed to be free. She was the model for many works we take for granted by Degas ad Lautrec and others.
If you enjoy history from that era, it gives a wonderful account of some of the great artists we read so much about, yet their struggles are no different than artists today. The book has many of her drawings and paintings. The village of Montmarte, France comes alive, and it made me think back to the '60's in the East Village of NYC where I had lived- beatnicks, bohemians, hippies, artists, poets, writers, musicians, and realized how these artist communities or "pockets" pop up, thrive and evolve. But I also saw that Valadon created her own style with no formal training, and I feel she heralded in the Fauve's technique in her drawing and painting styles, more so than the Impressionists and others she befriended. The Fauve movement, my favorite, for color and outline came alive for me, (and although many feel Van Gogh an Impressionist, he is hardly mentionable in this book. I always considered him to be more a "Fauve" than an Impressionist.)
With the reading, one is opened to the history, the styles and techniques of the time period, and the development of Modern Expressionism and Futurism at the turn of the century in a no nonsense manner. I highly recommend the book!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Bit of History

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. The joy and sensuality came through her paintings at this time painting her new husband in many. Her still lifes, strongly outlined, depict her joy, energy, and love of life.

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". It has been written people were stopped in their tracks, one evening, as Suzanne, wearing a corsage of fresh carrots, sat in front of Chez Ma Cousine milking a mare into a wine glass and then heartily drinking it down!

The marriage to Utter did not last, and she lived her last years cared for by a young man named Gazi. In 1894, she was the first woman to be admitted to the SociÈtÈ Nationale des Beaux-Arts. In 1937 at an exhibition of European Women Painters, she told a friend after looking closely at all the art, " I think maybe God has made me France's greatest woman painter. "
When Suzanne Valadron died, Braque, Derain and Picasso, attended her funeral at the CimetiËre parisien, St.-Ouen in Paris.

John Storm, The Valadon Drama
Karen Peterson & J.J Wilson, Women Artists, 1978
There are books on Suzanne Valadon you might enjoy at Amazon. Here are some pics I have found of Suzanne Valadron, her work, and that of others she modeled for.

Works by Suzanne Valadon

Suzanne Valadon by Renoir

Suzanne Valadon by
Toulouse-Lautrec Valadon by Steinien

Photograph of the artist Suzanne Valadon