The lives of the French artists

(About art, and the lives of (French) artists. Vanishingly little language-related stuff, muscular naked men and a pair of naked women bathers for gay interest (though nothing more than that) — but lots of straight people hooking up, as they are inclined to do, randy, licentious beasts that they are.)

Today’s morning name — I have no idea of why — was Puvis de Chavannes, who of course led me to Susan Valadon.

Let’s jump right into two of his murals:


(#1) Le Travail (1863); the work of men and the work of women


(#2) Summer (1873); a celebratory harvest scene (there are several earlier versions that ended up being studies for this painting)

(Virtually every Puvis has at least one woman in it, usually bare-breasted.)

Very brief details from Wikipedia:

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (14 December 1824 – 24 October 1898) [born Pierre-Cécile Puvis] was a French painter best known for his mural painting, who came to be known as ‘the painter for France’ [because his work united politically opposed blocs].

… In Montmartre, he had an affair with one of his models, Suzanne Valadon, who would become one of the leading artists of the day as well as the mother, teacher, and mentor of Maurice Utrillo. From 1856, he was in a relationship with the Romanian princess, Marie Cantacuzène. The couple were together for 40 years, and were married before their deaths in 1898.

… Puvis de Chavannes’ work is seen as symbolist in nature, even though he studied with some of the romanticists, and he is credited with influencing an entire generation of painters and sculptors, particularly the works of the Modernists.

… Many of [his] works are characterized by their nod to classical art, visible in the careful balanced compositions [note the tripartite structure of the two paintings above], and the subject matter is frequently a direct reference to visions of Hellenistic Greece [but with often naturalistic figures, and with erotic undertones not characteristic of neo-Classical academy painting]

You can see the road to Renoir.

But first Susan Valadon, remarkable as a tough, resilient, self-created artist (also celebrated model, also lover of artists and mother of one). From Wikipedia:

Suzanne Valadon (23 September 1865 – 7 April 1938) was a French painter and artists’ model who was 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 subjects of her drawings and paintings included mostly female nudes, female portraits, still lifes, and landscapes.


(#3) Valadon’s The Two Bathers (1923)

Valadon grew up in poverty with her mother, an unmarried laundress; she did not know her father. Known to be quite independent and rebellious, she attended primary school until age 11. In 1883, aged 18, Valadon gave birth to a son, Maurice Utrillo. Valadon’s mother cared for Maurice while she returned to modelling. Valadon’s friend Miguel Utrillo would later sign papers recognizing Maurice as his son, although his true paternity is uncertain. Valadon helped to educate herself in art by reading Toulouse-Lautrec’s books and observing the artists at work for whom she posed.

In 1893, Valadon began a short-lived affair with composer Erik Satie, moving to a room next to his on the Rue Cortot. Satie became obsessed with her, calling her his Biqui, writing impassioned notes about “her whole being, lovely eyes, gentle hands, and tiny feet”, but after six months she left, leaving him devastated. Valadon married the stockbroker Paul Mousis in 1895, leading a bourgeois life for 13 years at an apartment in Paris and a house in the outlying region. In 1909, Valadon began an affair with the painter André Utter, the 23-year-old friend of her son, divorcing Mousis in 1913. Valadon married Utter in 1914, and he managed her career as well as her son’s. Valadon and Utter regularly exhibited work together until the couple divorced in 1934.

… Valadon debuted as a model in 1880 in Montmartre at age 15 [after several years in other jobs, including performing as a circus acrobat]. [At this point I noted with some shock that my grand-daughter is 15. Why, Opal, when Susan Valadon was your age, she had already…!] She modeled for over 10 years for many different artists including Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Théophile Steinlen Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jean-Jacques Henner, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. She modeled under the name “Maria”, eventually being nicknamed “Suzanne” by Toulouse-Lautrec, also her lover, after the biblical story of Susanna and the Elders as he felt that she especially liked modelling for older artists. She was considered a very focused, ambitious, rebellious, determined, self-confident, and passionate woman. In the early 1890s, she befriended Edgar Degas who, impressed with her bold line drawings and fine paintings, purchased her work and encouraged her [but was not her lover]; she remained one of his closest friends until his death. Art historian Heather Dawkins believed that Valadon’s experience as a model added depth to her own images of nude women, which tended to be less idealized than that of the male post impressionists representations.

The most recognizable image of Valadon would be in Renoir’s Dance at Bougival from 1883, the same year that she posed for Dance in the City.


(#4) Valadon dancing for Renoir

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 with her fellow painters, and she was Toulouse-Lautrec’s subject in his oil painting The Hangover.


(#5) Valadon’s unsparing Self-Portrait (1927), when she was 62 (Impressionist apples apparently on loan from Paul Cézanne)

2 Responses to “The lives of the French artists”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    A note: I came to Puvis de Chavannes, as to Odilon Redon, through Ann Daingerfield (Zwicky), who knew a great deal more about French art of the 19th and early 20th centuries than I will ever know.

  2. [BLOG] Some Monday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky considers the French Impressionist artists Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Suzanne Valadon, with images of […]

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