Below are recommendations of two art historical fiction novels that focus on the unconventional life of the painter Suzanne Valadon.
Suzanne Valadon’s determination to succeed as an artist in her own right, as a woman and without any access to formal training, is what makes her story an important one to remember.
Her fascinating story is definitely worth reading about!!
Check out the two art historical fiction novels written about Valadon against the backdrop of 19th century Paris in the Belle Époque .
Renoir’s Dancer: The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon by Catherine Hewitt
In the 1880s, the beautiful Suzanne Valadon was one of the most sought after models of the impressionist painters.
Valadon was born into poverty in rural France. In her early years, she relocated with her mother to the poor part of Paris, Montmartre. In her teenage years, Suzanne began posing for and having liasons with some of the most famous painters.
What most of these painters did not know was that Valadon herself was a ‘closet’ artist. Renoir catches her indulging in her passion and discovers that his model is in fact a very talented artist.
When she started exhibiting her works, the art critics misunderstood Valadon’s colorful paintings.
The art world also scorned her scandalous lifestyle.
However, her friends Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas believed in her talent and encouraged her to continue.
Suzanne Valadon was defiant and determined. She refused to be bound by tradition or gender. Valadon continued to paint under her own terms and in 1894, her painting was accepted to the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. This was a remarkable accomplishment for a working-class woman without any formal art training.
This book by Catherine Hewitt is actually a brilliantly researched biography but reads like a historical fiction novel. It is a wonderful read and a fascinating story. This biography details how she ignored all social norms and found her way as a recognized artist in the male-dominated art world of the 19th century.
Suzanne Valadon: The Mistress of Montmartre by June Rose
This book details the colorful career of Suzanne Valadon. It covers her early years as model and mistress of many 19th century Parisian painters, including Puvis de Cchavannes, a young Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec.
During the years as a model, Valadon hides her artistic talents. Later when she finds the courage, she shows her artworks to Toulouse-Lautrec. He sees Valadon’s artistic talent immediately and shows her works to Edgar Degas.
Degas also sees the artistic potential. Valadon and Degas become firm friends. He mentors Valadon and he is the first to buy her paintings. Degas gives Valadon the encouragement she needs to pursue her dream.
Valadon gives birth at the age of 18 to an illegitimate baby boy, who she names Maurice Utrillo. She later teaches him to paint to help him cope with his turbulent emotional years as an alcoholic. Utrillo eventually becomes a famous painter himself, outshining his mother’s fame.
The author, June Rose, does a great job bringing back to life the adventurous and spirited woman amongst the giants of impressionism.
The book is well writtten and supplemented with illustrations of Valadon’s sketches, paintings &, etchings. The book also has photographs of Suzanne Valadon throughout her unconventional life.
Please let me know if you read either one of these art historical fiction novels. Share with us your thoughts about the remarkable Suzanne Valadon. I would love to hear from you.