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Suzanne Valadon

French Painter, Printmaker, and Artists’ Model

Suzanne Valadon Photo

Born: September 23, 1865 - Bessines-sur-Gartempe,Haute-Vienne, France

Died: April 7, 1938 - Paris, France

“I had great masters. I took the best of them of their teachings, of their examples. I found myself, I made myself, and I said what I had to say.”

Summary of Suzanne Valadon

Typically with a look of defiance and a slight scowl, Suzanne Valadon lived and worked at the absolute epicenter of artistic Paris in its heyday. She was a model as well as dear friend to some of the most famous artists of a generation, as well as a groundbreaking artist in her own right. She forged a career in a man’s world, challenged the conventions of the nude, and carved a new critical space in which to consider a woman’s body. Valadon’s portraits are based on real emotions and actual physical experience; they encourage women to look for themselves and to reclaim their own viewpoint. Whilst her technique and observational style have much in common with the French and English Post-Impressionists, her hard hitting and multi-layered thematic edge - a fascination and central focus on sex and aging - is more akin to that of the German, Austrian, and Scandinavian Expressionists, making Valadon an art historical lynchpin as well as a bright beacon for Feminist Art.

Key Ideas

Valadon differed from her female contemporaries, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt, who, born into upper middle-class families were restricted in their subjects and outlook. Born to an unmarried mother and educated by street life, Valadon developed the confidence to be independent, to paint more challenging pictures, and to define her own identity outside of the prevailing norms. What seemed like an unfortunate start in life, was potentially a golden ticket into the male-dominated art scene of the time.
Whether or not it was her intention, Valadon adds food for thought to theoretical debates surrounding the subject of attraction between men and women and the politics of looking addressed later in the century (for example the musings of Simone de Beauvoir, John Berger, and Laura Mulvey). There is a very strong sense in all of Valadon’s work that she seeks to demystify sex and to present passion and libido as common experiences shared by all. Women are presented as active equals also in possession of the hungry gaze.
Not only an artist, Valadon is also famous for her inclusion in so many other artists’ notable works. She doubled as a muse and an artist. She worked for 10 years as a professional artists model, all the while cleverly gleaning contacts, ideas, and techniques.
Throughout her career, Valadon returned to self-portraiture. A deep and penetrating awareness of self seemed to flow as a strong wave across the early-20th century and brought with it a heightened awareness of vulnerability and mortality, namely Expressionism. Fellow women artists – including Kathe Kollwitz, Paula Modersohn-Becker, and Helene Schjerfbeck – each explored similar themes.
Suzanne Valadon Life and Legacy

Valadon was central to the art world in France at the time - in this 1885 portrait she is just about 20 years old, and already inspiring the likes of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

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