Suzanne Valadon
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How beauty and irrepressible sexuality help to become the famous artist


Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) entered the history of art three times - as a model imprinted on many well-known canvases and drawings, as a talented artist and, finally, as one of those bright, bold, charming women, without whom it is impossible to imagine the life of Parisian bohemia at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Mary Clementine Valadon, the illegitimate daughter of a laundress, was born in 1865, came with her mother to Paris as a five-year-old girl, did not receive a decent education, from childhood she loved to draw, and from childhood she worked as a nanny, a seamstress, a waitress in a bistro, selling on the market.

Soon the girl began to pose for artists - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Theophilus Steinlen. It is she, charming and seductive, who dances on Renoir's canvases “Dance in the Bougival” (1883) and “Dance in the City” (1883), stands with a basket in her hands against the background of black umbrellas (Umbrellas, 1883). It is she, beautiful, fresh, with regular features and a sculptural body, looking from a portrait of Renoir ("Girl combing a braid", 1885). She is a flexible naked bather of Degas (Bathing in the pelvis, 1886).

Teasing and jealous Toulouse-Lortek nicknamed the girl "Suzanne": in his opinion, she was compared by aging impressionists with Suzanne from a biblical story, which appeared naked before the voluptuous old men. So the assistant of the laundress and the failed circus actress became known to the Parisian bohemian as a model Suzanne Valadon, and soon - as an artist.

The artists who painted Suzanna (this name for many years completely crowded out her own) did not understand that the model not only poses, but also diligently learns from each of them. In 1890, Suzanne showed her works to the strict maestro Edgar Degas, who, without thinking twice, declared “You are Ours!”, bought several works from her and subsequently provided the young artist with patronage.


Contemporaries were amazed by the "naked" pictures of Suzanne Valadon. She had no idea about the restrictions that sex imposed on women-artists of the time. The fact that she herself was a model, gives her works with nudity a special harshness, frankness and some kind of ruthless vigilance.

Love was as natural for her as sunset and sunrise, and just as fleeting. She circled the heads of her artist friends, one passion followed another. When in 1883 the young model gave birth to a son Maurice, there was no shortage of assumptions about a possible father of the child. Suzanne drove the composer Eric Satie crazy, becoming the only love in his life for half a year, but she mostly brought misery to Toulouse-Lautrec. Henri Perryusho in the  book "The Life of Toulouse-Lautrec" with great sympathy for his hero describes the tricks of Suzanne, with the help of which she sought from the artist all that she wished.

In 1896, Valadon married a wealthy stockbroker. A solid marriage allowed the artist to concentrate fully on painting, but Susanna would not have been herself if this respectable union had become the end of her stormy life. In 1909, forty-four-year-old Suzanne was fascinated by her son's boyfriend, a twenty-three-year-old handsome man, and early artist Andre Utter. She left her broker and in 1914 married Utter.

In the postwar years, Susanna became friends with Amedeo Modigliani, who painted her portrait and claimed that she was the only woman who understood him. Valadon lived a long life and managed to see how the fame of her son surpassed her own: she was increasingly called the mother of Maurice Utrillo, and then the artist. But she still remained a legend of Montmartre, and when Suzanne Valadon died in 1938, she was followed up on the last journey by the masters of the new generation - Andre Derain, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque.