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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 his alcoholism

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:

  • http://tinyurl.com/47jkm
  • http://tinyurl.com/3qx65

More information on other lesser known female artists can be found here

Source: Gilbert, Rita. Living with Art. 5th ed. : McGraw Hill, 1998.
Art Cyclopedia. 11 Aug 2004 http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/valadon_suzanne.html.

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