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Suzanne Valadon: The Mistress of Montmartre

By Béa Aaronson

Muse, model, lover, artist…she was all that and more!
“She seized what she
Wanted from art and life,
And tore it free with both
Hands making it
Irrevocably her own.”
–Germaine Greer

This woman painted like a man, strong, bold, nothing shy of a Degas or a Toulouse Lautrec! But alas, she is too often only remembered as the mother of the most famous Montmartre painter, the neurotic and alcoholic Maurice Utrillo, or the muse and model of Puvis de Chavannes, Auguste Renoir, Modigliani, or the mistress of Toulouse Lautrec, to name a few of the great masters she inspired. Did you know Erik Satie composed his melancholic and mysterious Gymnopédies after she broke off their amorous relationship?

“Suzanne Valadon: The Mistress of Montmartre”
Wed, Mar 6, 4:30pm
La Ostra Roja
A Casa Verde Annex
San Jorge 45 (off Refugio)
120 pesos
Please make your reservations early

Suzanne Valadon painted like she lived, passionately, unbridled, independent, strong willed, and self-determined. La Valadon, as she was called, was part of a circle of artists living and working in Paris’s Montmartre neighborhood at the turn of the 20th century, a moment in French history known as La Belle Epoque. She was one of the most notable female artists of the period, and my presentation will honor her and put her back where she belongs, among the greats.

Yes. She did live a ferocious, scandalous life. Oblivious of gossip, only focusing on love, life and art. Or… should it be art, love and life? But aren’t these three energies truly one same force? She was an eccentric too! Feeding caviar to her cats on Fridays and her “bad drawings” to a goat she kept in her studio!

Suzanne Valadon was born poor, out of wedlock, in 1865 in the Limousin region of France. Her mother was a laundress. A single mother in the puritanical provinces just does not do it! So, both mother and 5-year-old Marie Clémentine (that was her real name, it is Toulouse-Lautrec who called her Suzanne) left for the anonymous life of Paris. Marie Clémentine was a rebellious child, very independent, and very resourceful too. From age nine on she supported herself by doing odd jobs: nanny, street seller, and… circus acrobat! She did it until she fell off the trapeze when she was 16. Her body was strongly built and beautiful and, looking for a safer occupation, she became an artist’s model. The rest is history!

Suzanne Valadon, the self-taught artist, observed carefully the techniques of the artists for whom she was posing and began creating her own paintings. Her efforts were especially encouraged by Edgar Degas. She painted everything! Portraits, landscapes, cats, flowers and still-lifes, but it is her female nudes that created scandals! They were assertive and unashamedly naked, oozing a bold female sexuality that challenged the traditional male construction of passive femininity. She also dared paint naked males — in the company of naked females.You can just imagine! Albeit because, or thanks to, these scandals, Valadon achieved recognition and success in her own lifetime, allowing her to buy her own house in Paris. It is art history who forgot her!

I will be honored to repair this mistake and share with you Suzanne Valadon’s life and work, contextualized within the Paris of La Belle Epoque and Montmartre’s bohemian life. Be ready for a deliciously bumpy ride!


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