I saw the Suzanne Valadon exhibit at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia last Fall. Now that the dog days of August are upon us, I have finally decided to write about it.
The Barnes Foundation, for those who are not familiar with it, is an art oasis on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. It used to be located in Merion, a Philadelphia suburb. The move to Philadelphia was controversial, and a testament to the fact that money pretty much rules everything in the art world and everywhere else. But there’s no denying that it practically took an act of congress to gain admission to the Barnes when it was in Merion. And there’s also no denying that many more people get to see the collection now that it’s in Philadelphia. You can read more about the history of the Barnes Foundation here.
Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) was a French artist who “never attended the Academy and was never confined to a tradition.”
She was tough because she had to be. She was born out of wedlock and had to make her own way in the world that didn’t treat women very well unless they had money or position behind them.
But she was talented, ambitious and smart. She didn’t have any formal training but started drawing at an early age. She knew many of the French Impressionists, and served as a model for some of them. She was reportedly in love with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Edgar Degas was a friend who greatly respected her drawing and served as a teacher and artistic mentor. He taught her printmaking so she would have a way to make a living other than being a model, a laundress, milliner, waitress, or countless other jobs she held.
She was an independent woman who lived as she wished and who was admired because she “painted like a man,” or with masculine sensibilities. Some said that she painted “with an energy unheard of in a woman.” I am not sure what that’s supposed to mean. She used bold colors and bold contours. I guess you could say that she painted like she meant it.
She ultimately married and had a son who became a well-known artist in his own right.
In an interview late in her life, she said, “I found myself, I made myself, I said what I had to say.”
If you are interested in learning more about Suzanne Valadon, here’s a timeline of her life, a short biography, and a summary of her artistic legacy.