Suzanne Valadon (23 September 1865 – 7 April 1938) was a French painter born Marie-Clémentine Valadon at Bessines-sur-Gartempe, Haute-Vienne, France. In 1894, Valadon became the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. She was also the mother of painter Maurice Utrillo.
The daughter of an unmarried laundress, Suzanne Valadon became a circus acrobat at the age of fifteen, but a year later, a fall from a trapeze ended that career. In the Montmartre quarter of Paris, she pursued her interest in art, first working as a model for artists, observing and learning their techniques, before becoming a noted painter herself. She modelled for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (who gave her painting lessons), Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, and is known to have had affairs with the latter two. In the early 1890s she befriended Edgar Degas who, impressed with her bold line drawings and fine paintings, purchased her work and encouraged her efforts. She remained one of Degas' closest friends until his death.
The most recognizable image of Valadon would be in Renoir's Dance at Bougival from 1883 (see Gallery), the same year that she posed for City Dance. In 1885, Renoir painted her portrait again as Girl Braiding Her Hair. Another of his portraits of her in 1885, Suzanne Valadon, is of her head and shoulders in profile. Valadon frequented the bars and taverns of Paris along with her fellow painters, and Toulouse-Lautrec painted her as the subject of The Hangover.
Valadon painted still lifes, portraits, flowers, and landscapes that are noted for their strong composition and vibrant colors. She was, however, best known for her candid female nudes. A perfectionist, she worked on some of her oil paintings for up to 13 years before showing them. She also worked in pastel. Her first exhibitions, held in the early 1890s, consisted mostly of portraits.
Today, some of her works may be seen at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Grenoble, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
A free spirit, she wore a corsage of carrots, kept a goat at her studio to "eat up her bad drawings", and fed caviar (rather than fish) to her "good Catholic" cats on Fridays.
Despite her financial success and the recognition gained for her artistic achievements, her fame was eclipsed by that of her son. She gave birth to the boy in 1883, when she was 18, naming him Maurice Valadon. He later adopted the paternal family name of a close friend of his mother, Miguel Utrillo y Morlius, who owned the Auberge du Clou, a tavern frequented by the residents, shop owners, workers, and artists of Montmartre. The tavern had a shadow theatre in its basement; and Miguel also created the scenery, ombres, and stage settings for the productions. After being taught to paint and mentored by his mother, as Maurice Utrillo, he became one of Montmartre's best-known artists.
Among her works is a portrait of the composer Erik Satie, with whom she had a six-month affair in 1893. A smitten Satie proposed marriage after their first night together. For Satie, the intimacy of his relationship with Valadon would be the only one of its kind in his life, leaving him at its end, he said, with "nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness." Satie's composition "Vexations" is said to be the an outcome of grief after the split.
Valadon's 1896 marriage to stockbroker Paul Moussis ended in 1909 when she left him for painter André Utter, who was half her age,. She married Utter in 1914, but that marriage did not last either.
Suzanne Valadon died on 7 April 1938, at age 72, and was buried in the Cimetière de Saint-Ouen in Paris. Among those in attendance at her funeral were her friends and colleagues André Derain, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque.
A novel based on her life by Elaine Todd Koren was published in 2001, entitled Suzanne: of Love and Art. An earlier novel by Sarah Baylis, entitled Utrillo's Mother, was published first in England and later in the United States. Timberlake Wertenbaker's play "The Line" (2009) traces the relationship between Valadon and Degas.
Both an asteroid (6937 Valadon) and a crater on Venus are named in her honor. The small square at the base of the Montmartre funicular in Paris is named Place Suzanne Valadon.