An Unconventional Woman Among the Impressionists
The discussion of the French Impressionists of the nineteenth century has been so DONE--I'm ready to explore the neglected corners of that world and find out who inspired and was inspired by these famous artists. Fortunately there's a new book out there that does just that--and it focuses on a woman!
Suzanne Valadon may not have had an easy start in life like the other famous women associated with Impressionism like Mary Cassatt (the daughter of an American banker) or Berthe Morisot (who married the brother of the iconic painter Édouard Manet). Yet this woman who had no formal artistic training would go on to exhibit at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and gain the admiration of the likes of Degas. This is all detailed in the new biography, Renoir's Dancer--The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon by Catherine Hewitt.
Valadon was the illegiminate child of a working class mother who struggled to make her way--even working as a trapeze artist in a circus before a serious injury derailed that career. This subsequently led her to a job that would earn more money than her mother ever earned as a maid: an artist's model and muse. Valendon forged connections with the most progressive minded Impressionist and Post Impressionist painters of the day: the aforementioned Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, and particularly Renoir, for whom she posed for many paintings and had a lengthy affair (Toulouse-Lautrec was apparently also a lover).
Valadon would go on to become a single mother herself at the age of eighteen (which of course begs certain questions of paternity in my mind...). Nevetheless she would continue to cultivate her artistic talent, marry and divorce yet continue to paint hundreds of artworks, one of which can now be found in New York City at the Met (above).
Why has it taken so long for us to meet you, Suzanne? In today's world would you have been another voice in the #Metoo movement? I'm fascinated to learn how much Degas helped in her training and career (apparently a lot). Let's hope more women scholars like Catherine Hewitt continue to shine a light on these little known, yet trailblazing female artists.
What are you reading?