The Mistress of Montmartre
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In this entertaining and informative book, Rose (Modigliani: The Pure Bohemian, 1991) chronicles the tumultuous life of a French woman whose exceptional talent and determination earned her the admiration of her more famous contemporaries. Born in 1865 to an unmarried seamstress, Suzanne Valadon used her formidable beauty to enter Montmartre’s bohemian circles as a painter’s model. She joined the cohort of Toulouse-Lautrec and other great artists, and her vibrant, unsentimental drawings of women and children led them to accept her as one of their own. (Degas in particular became a lifelong supporter of her work, buying many of her “wicked and supple drawings” for his own collection.) Nonetheless, Valadon’s accomplishments were often overshadowed by the scandal surrounding her fiery, unconventional life—which included many lovers, an illegitimate son, a stint as a bourgeois wife, and a passionate affair with a man half her age, who later became her second husband. Despite violent alcoholism, Valadon’s neglected son, Maurice Utrillo, became an artist in his own right, and the commercial success of his simple, melancholy cityscapes eventually came to support his mother’s critically acclaimed work. Her womanizing second husband became business manager for both. The “unholy trio” lived together, providing much gossip for artists and critics alike, until their financial ties were broken up by Utrillo’s late marriage. Valadon died three years later, in 1938. The mourners at her funeral included Picasso, Derain, and the director of Paris’s Fine Art Museum, though none of the daily papers reported the event. Rose does a fine job of tracing the development of the “pitiless . . . precise and firm” lines and vivid color that characterize Valadon’s best work. The book is filled with lively anecdotes about the famous artists, dealers, and performers of Valadon’s milieu. However, her tendency to simplify the complexities of Valadon’s relationship with her famous son (can we really consider her a devoted mother when she seems to have largely ignored Utrillo until the budding of his success?) can sometimes be disturbing. (8 pages color, 73 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-19921-X
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999


FictionTHE PARIS WINTER by Imogen Robertson
by Imogen Robertson