UTRILLO'S MOTHER by Sarah Baylis
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The imagined life-story of self-taught French artist Suzanne Valadon, contemporary of Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, whose own accomplishments were at last lauded, then eclipsed, by the fame of her violent, alcoholic son; published to acclaim in England in 1987, shortly before the author's death at the age of 31. In a tour de force full of harsh yet sensuous language and bitter wit, Baylis imagines Clementine (the artist's real name was Marie-Clementine), born to a rural washerwoman who loses her job after an uncharacteristic act of violent defiance and heads for Paris with her daughter. In vividly evoked Montmartre, where the egalitarian ideals (and violence) of the French Revolution have been suppressed--and flare up again briefly during the brutally quashed Paris Commune--Clementine goes to work in a factory at age ten, struggles with the mother she both despises as a drudge and wants to love, and--desperate to be an artist--uses her ferocious will to overcome obstacles of gender and class. She models nude not just to earn money but to overhear discussions of aesthetics and observe how to mix pigments; she exchanges sexual favors for canvas and paints; she bears the illegitimate child (Maurice Utrillo), who later brings her heartache even during the years of success. Stunning re-creation of the life of a woman artist (and Woman as Artist) written with sensuous detail and savage intelligence.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1989
ISBN: 8135-1431-2
Publisher: Rutgers Univ.
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