Interesting Women: M.-C. Valadon

The sixteen year old artist Marie-Clémentine grabbed only air and slammed into the arena of  the circus Mollier: Her career as rope-dancer and trapeze artiste was definitely ended. This happened 1880 or 1881.

Marie-Clémentine VALADON (1865-1938) (Ger., Eng.) was the illegal daughter of a laundress, and born in the French province; she and her mother went to Paris 1870, just in time for the German troops encircling the capital (September 1870) and the commune (Ger., Eng.) of spring 1871 – but that’s not of interest here.
She visited a catholic school but had to leave at eleven, learned and worked as milliner – Putzmacherin – , servant or waitress and generally run around her quartier, butte Montmatre (Ger., Eng.) – the old Roman mons Martis that became the Franconian mons martiris, the hill over Paris where a bustling entertainment and amusement district developed exactly in Marie-Clémentine’s youth: She will stay here for the rest of her life.
When her bones had grown together again she started working as model for the artists who gathered in the quartier. She was pretty generous with her favour. The relation with Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC (Ger., Eng.) must have been intense; he helped her developing her painting skills and made her use the nom d’artiste Suzanne. But more important was her friendship with Edgar DEGAS (Ger., Eng.) – what Henry watched with jealousy –  who teached her the art of etching (Ger., Eng.) and other crafts and techniques. She had a first exhibition 1894,  her first etchings were published 1895. DEGAS was it who started to buy her art and raised interest from collectors and gallery owners. She moved from drawing to painting, from black and white into colour. (Examples here.)
Her son was born 1883 and named Maurice (Ger., Eng.). The father remains unknown. Later the boy was adopted by a Spanish critic of the name Miguel UTRILLO, but he did not like the name. Some not very nice anecdotes about the paternity were told, no need to repeat. Sadly Suzanne calmed her child with Cognac and Maurice hence had his first withdrawal treatment with 17. Back from rehab his mother made him paint (examples),  successfully. I like his white unpeopled street scenes.
Finally their art was collected and paid for and Maurice and Suzanne, together with her longtime partner André UTTER (1886-1948), whom she met 1909 and married 1914, finally were able to build a villa in rue Junot, ‘where they lived happily until their death.’ I could not find a biographical article about UTTER, but he is mentioned and depicted in this biography of Suzanne.

Suzanne died from a stroke, painting. Maurice suffered a breakdown and Utter led the funeral procession.

An interesting woman.


Do not hesitate to visit the blog of GERALDGEE, who put up an interesting collage of UTRILLO’s street scenes ‘The World of Maurice Utrillo’  (here) – I have to confess that I did not think of looking at youtube for ‘Utrillo’ or ‘Valadon’ or other non-musicians. My outdated mental map of media connected youtube still with ‘musicvideo’ only, but change is under way.

14 thoughts on “Interesting Women: M.-C. Valadon

  1. Dear Mago,
    What a triumph… i just love a tale about someone surviving such a scandalous past… thankyou… A very interesting woman.

  2. What a life… and if you look at her work, so modern, nothing flimsy or wishy washy about it, forthright and decisive.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Once I had begun a story about a farm girl who becomes Lauterec’s muse, your post has given me leads. which is a very big thing.

  3. Excuse me please, Joyce, I did not understand you right. I slept like dead, the wheather is changing and my body does not like that. Yesterday I found it hard to comcentrate, even in the nigt. Today however is fine!
    Yes, she overcame a lot of obstacles and ignored any limits for “female living” of the time. She must have had an incredible will for independence.

    Princess, she arrived later, found acceptance as artist, and it must have been a special satisfaction for her when her son received the cross of the Legion. That is what France can give to an artist.

    Austere, I only lately discover the 19th century for me. At school it was one of the main topics with the emphasis on industrialization and I guess we all could not hear about it any more after graduation. But there is a lot more to it. And what is called fin de siecle, especially in Paris, is the beginning of the ‘Moderne’.
    In various aspects.
    In a way France only became France after the lost war of 1871: Peasants who understood themselves still as inhabitants of a certain village and province, who self-defined themselves first not as Frenchmen but via other relations, one generation later the nationalization was in full swing and a full success.
    Right to the beginn of the First Worldwar.
    What we see in Suzannes life is that she comes from a village (the village is always not far away, is it :) ) as illegal child into the cheap part of town. Actually Montmatre is not yet a part of Paris then, but I might be wrong. But the city means liberty, freeing from the tense surveilance of the village. But this liberty has another side too, because the bourgeoise society of Paris is deeply doublesided, not to say schizophrenic, about the role of females and sexuality. Interestingly she is the one who wants to marry Lautrec, he refuses – at least is that what I read in the wikipedia-article. Later she is married with a banquier but this seems to be nothing but a legalized affaire, Utter she marries in August 1914, shortly before he goes to war. I guess independece could be her motto.
    Whether the life in saied villa was always nice and happy may be questionable – a mentally fragile and drinking Maurice, a determined Suzanne, Utter only three years younger than Maurice with his own affairs … She outlives all the early bohemiens of the fin de siecle, Lautrec, Satie …

  4. What an admirable woman, and what a life! To be able to survive such past in these days!

    Her paintings were clearly influenced by her French benefactors! What you wrote about Utrillo has drawn my attention. Wikipedia says they called them “La trinité maudite” (the cursed trinity), and they belonged to the exceptional community of Picasso and Matisse in Paris.

    That time at Montmartre must have been so amazing.

    PS.- I hope you got enough sleep and are fit today. There’s a mass of African air over Spain and we’re hitting 40ºC (104ºF). My brain is fried. Got to go back to work now and just to go outside scares the hell out of me.
    Happy Fussballspiel.

  5. We will face the heat coming weekend, its going to get continually warmer, no cooling down through the nights, Leni.

    Biography is the most interesting read, Tempest. I have a small shelf reserved only for them.

    Of course! Hail to THE Mistress!

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