Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Suzanne Valadon


Suzanne Valadon was born in 1865, an illegitimate daughter of a French laundress. From age nine on she supported herself by doing odd jobs. One was as a circus acrobat. She did it until she fell off the trapeze when she was sixteen. Looking for a safer occupation, she became an artists' model. She posed for several noted painters, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.

Valadon soon took interest in painting. She observed carefully the techniques of the artists for whom she was posing and began creating her own paintings. Her effort was especially encouraged by Toulouse-Lautrec and Edgar Degas. She painted portraits, landscapes, still lifes and, especially, female nudes. Her nudes are assertive and unashamedly naked, while her images are unforgettable in vibrant and powerful colors reminiscent of the Post-Impressionist and Fauve styles. In 1915, she had her first one person exhibition, which became a critical as well as a commercial success. Her later exhibits were also successful.

Valadon's personal life attracted as much attention as did her art. She had well-known affairs with the painter Puvis de Chavannes, the composer Erik Satie and the banker Paul Moussis, with whom she lived for fourteen years. Afterwards she married Andre Utter, a painter, twenty-one years younger than she. They had several joint art exhibitions and he also posed for a number of Valadon's works, including the painting Adam and Eve. Valadon's son, Maurice Utrillo, became a painter, too. When Suzanne Valadon died in 1938, many notables from the Parisian art community came to her funeral, including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Andre Derain.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1997.

Women Artists: An Illustrated History, by Nancy G. Heller, Abbeville Press, 1991

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