She posed for Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec; Degas was so impressed by her drawings that he became the first to purchase a work by this self-taught female artist. But though Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) gloried in the carefree, bohemian artistic scene of Paris's Montmartre neighborhood in the 1880s and '90s, she really came into her own during the early years of the 20th century, when a passionate love for a man 20 years her junior led her to abandon a bourgeois husband and devote herself anew to art. She set to work with a renewed serenity but the same "unfeminine" boldness of line and earthy sexuality that had dismayed tradition-minded viewers from the beginning. It was she who taught her illegitimate son, Maurice Utrillo, to paint in a desperate attempt to wean him from his addiction to alcohol. His fame surpasses hers today in part because male art historians preferred salacious tales of Valadon's many loves and scandalous exploits to sober assessments of her artistic gifts. British art biographer June Rose restores Valadon to her proper place as a peer of the great postimpressionists in a readable narrative that puts her freewheeling personal life into perspective as a product of the same refusal to be constrained by conventional wisdom that fired her art. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Montmartre was only a Parisian village when Marie-Clementine Valadon, the illegitimate daughter of a laundress, moved there with her mother in 1870 at the age of five. By her mid-teens, Valadon was drawing "with instinctive and growing confidence," had performed in a local circus and was modeling for artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and lesser-known bohemians. At 18, now calling herself Suzanne, she gave birth to Maurice Utrillo, whose father she did not identify but whose name was derived from a Catalonian lover. Valadon's work as a model, Rose shows, culminated three years later when she served as a subject for Renoir's The Bathers. Shrewd and self-taught, Valadon moved from subject to sketcher and painter, producing portraits, still lifes, landscapes and earthy nudes that earned praise from Degas, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec and put her at the center of the area's artistic ferment and scandals. Married twice?the second time to a painter more than 20 years her junior?Valadon aged well and stayed at her easel and in public life even when her pictures had lost their clientele. Given a paucity of documentation, British biographer Rose (Modigliani) examines her subject's work chronologically and fills out Valadon's doings with vignettes of Montmartre and of the artists she accepted as patrons or took as lovers. But the drama here comes less from Valadon's love and work than from her wayward son, whose artistic genius eclipsed her modest talent but whose destructive drunkenness forced Valadon to put him away, between paintings, in country madhouses. Rose's biography, which carefully if unexceptionally takes us to Valadon's death in 1938 at 72, tells the story of Utrillo's as well as his mother's life. B&w and color photos.
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