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Suzanne Valadon: The Mistress Of Montmartre

Artists' Stories

Suzanne Valadon: The Mistress Of Montmartre

She started as a model because she didn’t have money for professional painting classes. She would watch the artists for whom she worked, such as Henri de Tolouse-Lautrec or Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and follow their moves and techniques. Suzanne Valadon – a first woman admitted to  Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in France. And today’s her birthday!

Suzanne Valadon, Self-portrait, 1918, Private collection

Suzanne Valadon, Self-portrait, 1918, Private collection

She only had a mum who worked as a laundress and didn’t earn much.  Hence little Suzanne, her real name was Marie-Clémentine, had to start working at the age of 11. She was a waitress, a vegetable seller, a maker of funerary wreaths and even a trapeze gymnast. They lived in Montmartre, a quite dodgy Parisian neighbourhood which housed many brothels.

Suzanne Valadon, Woman with a double bass, 1908, Petit Palais, Geneva, Switzerland

Suzanne Valadon, Woman with a double bass, 1908, Petit Palais, Geneva, Switzerland

She began modelling when she was 15 and soon she was known as a provocative, self-confident and rebellious girl. Her new name, Suzanne, was given her by Lautrec who called her after the biblical story of Suzanne and the Elders.
In the 1890s she met Edgar Degas and they became lifelong friends. Degas supported Suzanne in her painterly efforts and bought many of her works.

Suzanne Valadon, My son at 7 years old, 1890

Suzanne Valadon, My son at 7 years old, 1890

Suzanne had her first son when she was only 18. Her friend Miguel Utrillo signed the documents confirming paternity but it’s uncertain whether he was the real father of the child. Because of this act, Maurice Valadon, a boy to become a famous painter himself, is known nowadays as Maurice Utrillo.

Suzanne Valadon, Nu au canapé rouge, 1920, Musée du Petit Palais Genève

Suzanne Valadon, Nu au canapé rouge, 1920, Musée du Petit Palais Genève

Suzanne truly was an independent girl. Although she personally knew so many artists, she didn’t follow any of their styles. She painted in her own way and chose her own subjects. There were still lifes, landscapes, portraits and many nudes. Since she had worked as a model, she perfectly knew how to depict bodies and, more importantly, she resisted the typical sexualized manner of rendering female bodies of the male artists.

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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