Suzanne Valadon was born in 1865 in
Bessines-sur-Gartempe, Haute-Vienne, France.
She was an illegitimate child whose birth name was Marie-Clementine
Valade. At the age of three she moved to Paris. Living in extreme
poverty the only food they could find to eat was vegetables thrown in the trash
by the local markets. Young Mary took a job working in the laundry and
later joined the circus as a trapeze artist and also doing animal acts.
When she was 18, she gave birth to her own illegitimate child, who later in
life became the famous painter Maurice Utrillo. As a child she taught
herself how to draw. Since she was poor, drawing utensils were hard to
find. So, she would use coal cinders and any other materials she could
find to draw with. While she was in the circus, she became an artist's
model posing for such artists as Edgar Degas, Renoir, and the young painter
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec formed a very close friendship
with Mary and some speculate that they were lovers. Lautrec is the one who
gave her the name Suzanne Valadon.
Valadon received many accolades for her art, even though she never had a
formal lesson. She painted floral scenes, nudes, erotic images and a self
portrait among other paintings. Valadon revitalized paintings of the
working class studio nude. Both abstract and non-abstract through sympathetic
first-hand experience. Her vital, corpulent models charted modern female
experience almost as bluntly as her daring group of nude self portraits. When she was in her late 20's, her artwork was exhibited by several important
art dealers which lead to her selling many of her drawings, paintings, and etchings. She
was honored that her paintings were compared to works by the famous artist Paul
Gauguin. She admired Gauguin's style of painting very much, but she always had originality
and her own artistic instincts with her use of bold and distinct outlines.
In 1894, Suzanne met a very wealthy banker named Paul Mousis. Although
they never legally married, they spent the next 14 years together as husband and
wife. They lived in the Paris suburbs at his estate. This was a very
scandalous relationship because they were unwed and her illegitimate son who was
then an alcoholic lived with them. Suzanne continued with her artwork and
exhibitions. She also taught her son to paint, hoping that it would help him in
In 1908, Suzanne went back to the bohemian lifestyle and fell in love with a
young painter who was a friend of her son's, named Andre Utter. She went
to live with Andre who was 21 years younger than her. She had an art
exhibition with her son and Andre in Paris, France but people were more
interested in their sinful lifestyle than they were in their art.
Near the end of her life she gained a modest amount of fame and financial
wealth. Until the last year she continued to paint and have shows both
with other artists and alone. She died in 1938 from a sudden stroke that
happened while she
was sitting at her easel working on a painting. Many artists
attended her funeral such as Pablo Picasso, her son Maurice Utrillo, Andre Utter
and many other people.
In her life as well as in her art she truly followed a unique path. She
had her own artistic style which needed no explanation. She didn't like
talking or writing about her art, but she did make one statement that seems to
sum it all up:
"I don't understand the experts, neither their explanations, nor
their comparisons. When they speak of technique, balance and values, they
simply make me dizzy. Only two things exist for me and all others who
paint: good pictures and bad pictures, that's all."
Her artwork is still displayed in museums such as:
Many of her paintings are for sale at auction sites such as Artnet and EBay.
Many art dealers still carry her paintings as well.
You can view some of her artwork at:
More information on other lesser known female artists can be
Source: Gilbert, Rita. Living with Art. 5th ed. : McGraw Hill, 1998.
Art Cyclopedia. 11 Aug 2004 http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/valadon_suzanne.html.