Suzanne was born Marie Clémentine Valadon in a small town to an unwed mother who worked as a Laundress. They relocated to a poor neighborhood in Paris when she was five where she attended a convent school until age eleven. She left to take a variety of jobs including in a milliner's workshop, a funeral wreath maker, a dishwasher, and a waitress, while still a child. From such a humble beginning emerged a pivotal figure in the history of modern art. She grew up in the streets at the absolute epicenter of the art movement in Paris . She was a model/muse to some of the most famous artists in art history, a groundbreaking artist in her own right and the mother of the famous artist Maurice Utrillo. Valadon differed from her female contemporaries, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt, who were born into upper-middle-class families and well educated. They were restricted in their subjects and perspective. Out of poverty and necessity, she developed the confidence to be independent, to paint more challenging pictures, and to define her own identity outside of the traditional established art circles.
When Valadon was a teenager, she befriended some artists living in her neighborhood in Montmartre. They helped her get a job as a Trapeze artist at the Mollier circus. Berthe Morisot painted the young Valadon as a tightrope walker. Not long after she fell from a trapeze while practicing her act and injured her back. No longer able to continue with the circus, she debuted as an artist's model at age 15. She continued as model and muse for over ten years to some of the most famous artists from that era: Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, Modigliani, and Toulouse-Lautrec. She became a regular at the famed tavern Lapin-Agile and the celebrated cabaret Le Chat Noir, often depicted in the drawings of Toulouse-Lautrec. Being marginalized and having no social status freed her to live and work among the artists and provided an inroad to that world that was not typically available to female artists.
Valadon had an interest in art from a young age. Over the years she worked to refine her skills by observing the techniques of the artists who painted her. Degas described her as “one of us”, after seeing some of her work. He encouraged her efforts to become an artist. He bought several of her pieces and introduced her to an art dealer and collectors. in 1894 Valadon became the first woman to show at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
There are several novels and books based on the life of Suzanne Valadon and the play "The Line", recounts the relationship between Valadon and Degas . She was the basis for the character Suzanne Rouvier in the novel "The Razors Edge", by W. Somerset Maugham, and also a muse for the composer Erik Satie. If you are fascinated by biographies of artists and interesting characters, art history or just a good story, it doesn't get much better than the life of Suzanne Valadon.
She enjoyed financial success in her lifetime and her work is in most major museum collections.
Portrait by Suzanne Valadon
Rose, June, Suzanne Valadon: Mistress of Montmartre
Vigue, Jordi, Great Women Masters of Art
Warnod, Jeanine, Suzanne Valadon