On the personal side, she is the mother of the painter Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955) whom she had with the Catalan artist Miquel Utrillo, and was also the mistress of the musician Erik Satie, before marrying the young painter André Utter (1886-1948) whom she represents as Adam in her first painting. Summer (1909) – she is Eve at his side.
On the artistic side, critics have not necessarily been able to describe the protean career of this painter, designer and engraver. She herself has always refused categories. For a long time, the work of Suzanne Valadon remained associated with Montmartre and the bohemian scene that revolved around the cabaret Le Chat Noir. The young provincial, native of Limousin, moved to Paris with her laundress mother, posed for recognized artists such as Pierre Puvis de Chavanne or Jean-Jacques Henner as well as for the Impressionist avant-garde such as Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec or even Berthe Morisot. But more than a simple inspiration, she draws – and has done so since a very young age – and learns above all on the sly from these painters for whom she represents a fascinating muse. The autodidact trained more seriously with Degas who became his mentor and taught him engraving. In a room dedicated to this technique, there are delicate scenes of women in the bath and children in the toilet.
If Valadon reinterprets in her own way the art of the contemporaries she has worked with, she is not without drawing inspiration from the paintings seen in exhibitions or magazines. So Family portraits (1912) – her recomposed family with Utter and her son Maurice – where she represents herself in the center, haughty, her hand folded on her chest, like a nod to the beautiful Antea, Renaissance masterpiece by the Italian Mannerist Le Parmesan. The influence of Cézanne in his still lifes or his landscapes, flat tints of color and a black outline underlining the drawing which recall Gauguin… Suzanne Valadon absorbs everything and remains herself.
From trapeze to brush
The hanging in the style of a bourgeois salon from the period, where portraits of collectors or close friends jumble together, does justice to his singular vision. More concerned with translating the deep psychology of those she paints than with rendering their physiognomy in a realistic or flattering way, the painter, like a sculptor who chisels a precise figure, brings out on the canvas a clean drawing enhancing a palette of warm colors, sometimes acidulous. This is the case with his gracefully stylized flower compositions that immortalize a season or the intimacy of an interior. Or his nudes.
There also emerges from his works a certain classicism that defies fashion, as superbly embodied by this Net throwing (1914) with fishermen in the body of Greek athletes choreographed in a sunny ballet full of sap, of this life that the former little trapeze artist, who became a painter following an accident which put an end to her circus career, will have been able to bite into with full teeth.