She had given birth to an illegitimate son, the future painter Maurice Utrillo, when she was just 18, and to this day, the identity of Maurice’s father remains a mystery.
From the outset, Maurice was a difficult child (he discovered alcohol before puberty, some say as young as nine) but the responsibilities of motherhood did not temper Suzanne’s wild streak.
She was a muse to Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec and a celebrated artist in her own right – so why is SUZANNE VALADON, once one of the most famous figures of the Montmartre milieu, virtually unknown today?
These days, if an attractive model slept with a chain of A-listers, partied in all the fashionable hotspots and then became pregnant, we would know about her.
In fact Suzanne had been drawing, privately, since childhood.
There was no money in the Valadon house to afford drawing materials, so she used stubs of charcoal and scraps of paper – whatever she could find – to make her pictures.
Other artists showed what people wanted to see; Suzanne showed what was true.Born Marie-Clémentine Valadon in 1865, in rural France, she was the illegitimate daughter of a linen maid.When her mother’s poverty obliged them to move to Paris, Suzanne – still a child – worked in one unskilled job after another until, aged 15, she was offered employment in a circus.Respectable, middle-class girls didn’t work and if a woman had to earn a living, painting was hardly a reasonable or lucrative method.A lady’s amateur interest in art or music was considered enchanting, a sign of good breeding; painting as a serious profession was a scandal.During the day it was a quaint haven, but when the sun set, the windows of hundreds of venues lit up, drawing a nocturnal population of artists, prostitutes and anarchists.