Suzanne Valadon. Part 7 – The final years

Portrait of His Mother Suzanne Valadon by Maurice Utrillo
Portrait of His Mother Suzanne Valadon by Maurice Utrillo

With their newly found wealth the acrimonious arguments ceased, long-standing bills were paid and new clothes were bought for Suzanne, her husband and her son.  There was also a change in the fortunes of the trio for before they were all artists and all exhibited their works but now the Bernheim Jeune gallery just wanted paintings done by Suzanne and Maurice.  Utter was now reduced to the role as their manager.  He was the one who negotiated deals and organised exhibitions at home and in Europe.   The new wealth brought happiness to their friends and neighbours as Suzanne was a generous soul.  It was said that tiny street urchins would along the narrow streets of Montmartre clutching onto 100 franc notes which Suzanne had thrown to them from her top floor window in rue Cortot.  Suzanne did not forget her mother in this exciting time and arranged to have a splendid granite tomb placed above her grave.  She must have been thinking of the future for she the tomb inscribed in gold letters:

Valadon – Utter – Utrillo

Suzanne also remembered those idyllic months she spent with André in Belleville when he was recuperating and so she decided that she and André should return there for a visit.   Sadly, as we all know, it is foolish to try and re-live old memories and their return was not as idyllic as she had imagined it would be as the couple lapsed into numerous arguments.  

Chateau de St Bernard
Chateau de St Bernard

The one thing which did lift their spirits was an impulse buy on the day they were to return to Paris.  They bought themselves a chateau which lay close to the River Saône, just 25 kilometres north of Lyon.  They bought Le Chateau de St Bernard from the owner Antoine Goujot.  The purchase lifted their spirits and they immediately sent out invites to all their friends back in Paris along with money to pay for their travel.  Money was no object when it came to supplying food and drink to the chateau parties. 

Finally André and Suzanne had to return to Paris and once again relations between the couple began to deteriorate.  Their marriage was under extreme pressure and during their vociferous arguments André Utter struggled to remember the good days they had shared together when Suzanne was the one true love of his life.  In those days he was mesmerized by both her outer and inner beauty and could not understand what had changed.  The problem with Suzanne, although he could not see it, probably emanated from her mental and physical failure to grow old gracefully coupled with the effect her son’s mental issue were having on her.   Maurice’s behaviour was also affecting Utter but he was less sympathetic as he himself had been an alcoholic and had weaned himself off drink and therefore he could not accept Maurice’s behaviour.  Sadly Utter was overlooking Maurice’s mental issues which had little to do with drink.  For Suzanne and André there were still times of unfettered sexual activity but these bouts became less frequent.  The new wealth of the couple could not compensate for their troubles and could not fix them. 

Suzanne, Maurice and André in their studio
Suzanne, Maurice and André in their studio

André Utter began to have love affairs and Suzanne was aware of his infidelity and strove to stop them but probably knew the situation was beyond redemption.  She believed the reason for her husband’s infidelity was her fading looks whereas in reality it was probably due to her fragile mental state that had killed their relationship.   Utter’s amorous trysts did not make him happy for very long as the women, aware of his wealth, were ever demanding.  Soon he could not differentiate between their love for him and their love for his money.  When one of his affairs ended disastrously, as they all did, he would return to Suzanne and beg her forgiveness.  The locals were well aware of the situation between Suzanne and André and Suzanne being aware of this, ensured that everybody should be aware of her selfless magnanimity in forgiving her errant husband.  As his sensual liaisons were not giving him the pleasure any more he turned back to drink as being drunk allowed him to escape reality and distance himself from his many lovers and the acerbic tongue of his wife.  He would constantly bemoan his lot in life.  Nobody loved him or his paintings any more.  During his drunken outbursts he would become vile and malicious and Suzanne suddenly saw a different André.  This was not the man she fell so deeply in love with back in 1908. 

Still Life by  Suzanne Valadon (1918)
Still Life by Suzanne Valadon (1918)

Suzanne tried to console herself by throwing herself back into her art which was still commanding a high price and the fact that her son’s works realised four or five times more that hers did not bother her; in fact she was proud of Maurice’s achievements.  The subjects in her paintings changed.  Gone were the nude studies to be replaced by still life depictions often featuring flowers which were painted in somewhat crude colours which she always liked using.  She still went back alone to her chateau and host luncheons and dinner parties.  Her extravagant lifestyle carried on.  She would feed her dogs with only the best faux-filets and her cats feasted on caviar.  People looked her as being a foolish old woman but she continued undaunted. 

Bouquet de fleurs devant une fenêtre à Saint-Bernard by Suzanne Valadon (1926)
Bouquet de fleurs devant une fenêtre à Saint-Bernard by Suzanne Valadon (1926)

In 1924 Maurice voluntarily placed himself in a Paris sanatorium which was close by at Ivry.   Maurice was still unable to accept that he had mental issues and put down his problems solely to his alcohol addiction.  Suzanne was heartbroken that at the time of her son’s greatest artistic triumphs he was hell-bent on destroying himself.  It could be that for the first time in her life she realised that the symptoms Maurice displayed as a very young child was the onset of his mental issues and could not forgive herself for not doing more then to try and cure what was ailing her son.  Once Maurice left the sanatorium Suzanne took him off to the chateau and employed a male nurse to look after him.  She tended to all his needs.  She fed him.  She dressed him and would go for long walks with him and at night she would sit in a chair next to his be until he fell asleep.  André made a number of visits to the chateau but the romance and the love he had for the place had gone and the tantrums and behaviour of Maurice now simply annoyed him.  Later he reflected on this saying: 

“…This Eden was transformed into a real hell.  I thought we had bought the place for peace.  But Maurice was able to scream and shout about to his heart’s content.  Suzanne replied in kind.  And only the walls and the fish in the Saône listened to them…”

Officials at the Bernheim Jeuene gallery were beginning to worry about Suzanne’s profligacy and so as to protect the interests of their co-client, Maurice Utrillo, purchased a house for him in the Avenue Junot and put it in his name.   It was a modern building with a studio and a small garden which Suzanne enjoyed tending.  Gardening and flowers were the one and only thing Suzanne loved about life.  Utter remained in their house at No. 12 rue Cortot as it still had memories for him of the beautiful woman he had once loved and the pictures he had once painted.  Years later, after Suzanne had died, Utter wrote to a friend:

“…Always I dream of the rue Cortot and the beloved Suzanne.  When we first moved there, how beautiful everything was – except for the gossips!   And I knew then that it was the place I should always keep in my heart.  Every man has a home.  He is lost if he does not treasure it…”

Suzanne Valadon at work in her studio (1926)
Suzanne Valadon at work in her studio (1926)

Suzanne’s art was still appreciated and in 1929 she was invited to show in the Exhibition of Contemporary Art – Women and Flowers and in the same year she exhibited work in the Painters, Self-Portraits exhibition.  It was at this exhibition that she showed her extraordinary nude self-portrait which featured her as an aging woman gazing into a mirror.   In 1932 Suzanne, Maurice and André had a joint exhibition of their work at Gallerie Moos in Geneva and they were all delighted with sales figures.  That year Suzanne had a one woman exhibition of her paintings, drawings and etchings at the Galleries Georges Petit in Paris.  It was an outstanding success.  One of the visitors to the exhibition was Suzanne’s friend from her chateau days, the then Mayor of Lyons Édouard Marie Herriot who also served three times as Prime Minister and for many years as President of the Chamber of Deputies.  Of the exhibition he wrote:

“…Alive as Springtime itself and, like Spring, clear and ordered without interpretation, Suzanne Valadon pursues her magnificent and silent work of painting……. I think of the words of Théopile Gautier  ‘Summer is a colourist, winter a draftsman’.  To us who admire and love her art, Suzanne Valadon is springtime – a creature in whose sharp, incisive forms we find fountains of life, the spontaneity of renewed day-to-day living.   And those matters of the nineteenth century whose names we revere, I marvel that so scrupulous a respect for truth of form is able to achieve such a fete of colour and movement…”

Suzanne Valadon Self Portrait (1931)
Suzanne Valadon Self Portrait (1931)

Suzanne also had another troubling matter to deal with.  What was to become of Maurice when she died?  Her answer to that was that he should marry.  Suzanne did not want to lose “control” of her son but believed a kind and dedicated woman would be the ideal wife for her troubled son.  One candidate Suzanne had in mind was André Utter’s sister Gabrielle.  Gabrielle, now in her thirties, had like André come from a humble background.  She was a very caring person, deeply religious and not at all unattractive.  In some ways she pitied Maurice which was a kind of love but in a maternal or sisterly sense.  She and Maurice would talk together for hours and did all things close friends would do but this was not a physical relationship.  After four years of this “courtship”, Suzanne, tired of waiting, forced the issue of marriage with Maurice but he was horrified with the suggestion and replied vitriolic ally:

“…I’ve had enough tragedy in my family with one of that family…”

An official delegation of the government descended on Chateau de Bernard to formally present Maurice with the Cross of the Legion de Honor  in 1927 for his services to Art, for by this time he was an internationally acclaimed artist.  I have to admit that whilst researching this blog I read that the award was in 1928 and other sources said 1929!

Portrait of her son Maurice Utrillo by Suzanne Valadon
Portrait of her son Maurice Utrillo by Suzanne Valadon

In January 1935, now in her sixty-ninth year, Suzanne was taken seriously ill  and rushed to the American Hospital at Neuilly where she was diagnosed with uremic poisoning.   One of her visitors was Lucie Valore, who had reverted to her maiden name and who many years ago was Lucie Pauwels, who visited Suzanne with her banker husband to buy some of her paintings.  Her husband had died two years earlier.  What happened and what was said at Suzanne’s bedside depends on the version of the story you wish to believe.   According to Suzanne, Lucie had simply come to visit her and during the visit had said that as Suzanne was unable to look after Maurice she would take on the role as carer.  However Lucie remembered the visit differently as she simply remembered Suzanne’s anguished questions as to who would look after her son and on hearing those tormented pleas had volunteered to take up the burden that Suzanne had borne for such a long time.  Who knows what the true version of events was, but for sure it was easy to realise that it was the start of a contest for who should bear the responsibility for looking after Maurice Utrillo.  When Suzanne had planned a wife for Maurice she always believed she could still control him and his life.  She wanted a compliant wife for Maurice one whom she could manipulate.   However she realised right from the start that Lucie Valore was not a person she could control or manipulate and so she desperately tried to end the relationship.  It did not work for Maurice made the decision to rid himself of the Montmartre life and replace it with a life with the banker’s widow.  Maurice Utrillo and Lucie Valore were married in a civil ceremony at the Montmartre mairie and later in a religious ceremony at Angoulème.  Although Suzanne was present at the civil ceremony she refused to attend the religious one.

Suzanne Valadon by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen
Suzanne Valadon by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen

The newlyweds remained in Angoulème for twelve months and Lucie took on both the role as Carer for Maurice but also as his business manager which had once been looked after by André Utter.  Lucie in a way controlled Maurice by carefully rationing his alcohol consumption so that it would not affect his artistic output.  Lucie was an astute business manager as she controlled the output of his work to the art dealers so as to artificially raise the value of his paintings.  His paintings grew in value and with this increased income the couple bought a large house with extensive grounds  in the fashionable town of Le Vésinet, to the north west of Paris.  Despite Lucie’s attempts to win over the support of Suzanne, her attempts failed and slowly Suzanne’s contact with her son lessened.  Although she was aware that Lucie had controlled Maurice’s outbursts it could be that she resented the fact that Lucie had succeeded where she had failed.  Suzanne had lost her mother, her husband and now her son what was left in her life?   The answer came in the form of another young aspiring artist, Gazi.  He was a young man with a swarthy collection and rumour had it that he was the son of a mogul emperor.  Locals referred to him as Gazi the Tartar but for Suzanne he was simply a young artist from Provence whom she befriended.  He eventually lived with her and looked after her like a devoted son with his mother.  He would sit with her in the evenings and listen to her tales of the past, about Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Renoir and the little Master, Degas.

In May 1937 Suzanne was invited to attend the Women Painters Exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris.  She had several of her latest paintings on show as well as some of her earlier work.  It was a celebration of French female artists and along with her works were paintings by  Vigée le Brun, Berthe Morisot, Eva Gonzalèz and Sonia Turk.  She spent hours critically viewing all the works of art and that evening she spoke to a friend who had accompanied her to the exhibition:

“…You know, chérie, I often boasted about my art because I thought that was what people expected – for an artist to boast.  I’m very humble after what we have seen this afternoon.  The women of France can paint too.  But do you know, chérie, I think God made me France’s greatest woman painter…”

The grave of Suzanne Valadon at the Cimetière parisien, St. Ouen.
The grave of Suzanne Valadon at the Cimetière parisien, St. Ouen.

In April, 1938, Suzanne Valadon was sat before her easel painting a floral still life when she was struck down by a stroke.  Neighbours heard her cry out and rushed inside to help her and found her lying motionless on the studio floor.  She was rushed to hospital but the next day, the 7th April1938, she passed away, aged 73.  Her daughter in law, Lucie, took care of the funeral arrangements as her husband, Suzanne’s son, Maurice, was in a state of collapse at home in Le Vésinet.  A funeral service was held at the Church of Saint Peter of Montmartre on April 9th.  The church was crowded to see the old lady, the great painter, begin her last journey.  Her husband André Utter was there and inconsolable.  His once greatest love had finally achieved peace.  She was buried in Cimetière  parisien de St Ouen.

Suzanne Valadon (Marie-Clémentine Valadon) 23 Sept 1865 - 7 Apr 1938
Suzanne Valadon
(Marie-Clémentine Valadon)
23 Sept 1865 – 7 Apr 1938

André Utter became the owner of the castle to the death of Suzanne Valadon in 1938. He sold it in 1945 and died in Paris a few years later in 1948.   Suzanne’s son Maurice Utrillo died on 5 November 1955, and was buried in the Cimitière Saint-Vincent in Montmartre and not in the family grave as Suzanne had planned.  In 1963, eight years after the death of her husband, Utrillo’s wife Lucie, founded the Association Maurice Utrillo, which housed a collection of documents and photographs recording the history of the lives of her and her husband as well as Suzanne Valadon and André Utter.   Lucy Utrillo died in 1965.  

When I started writing about the life and works of Suzanne Valadon I had no idea that it would stretch over seven separate blogs.  The more I wrote the more fascinated I became and the more I read about her life.  In the end I could not bear to leave out little bits of information I had just gleaned.   At one point I had decided not to go into too much detail about her son, Maurice Utrillo, but I soon realised that as he played such a key role in Suzanne’s life, it was important that I examined his relationship with his mother and grandmother and later his relationship with Suzanne’s lover Paul Mousis and her husband André Utter. 

What did you make of Suzanne’s life?   Were you less sympathetic with her lot in life believing she brought all her problems upon herself?   How did you feel about her relationship with her son Maurice?  Did you blame her for paying too little attention to him when he was a young child and by doing so, allowed his mental issues to worsen irrevocably or do you think that once she had been told by the doctors that Maurice “would grow out of it”, it was all she had to go on?  So can you empathise with her?  

For me, I felt sadness for her when she realised she was losing her greatest asset, an asset that in so many ways shaped her life.  The asset was her beauty but as we all know, one cannot hold on to it forever.

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Most of my information came from a book I read on the life of Suzanne Valadon entitled The Valadon Drama, The Life of Suzanne Valadon, written by John Storm in 1923.

Other sites I visited to find some pictures were:

http://lapouyette-unddiedingedeslebens.blogspot.co.uk/

http://youngbohemia.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/suzanne-valadon_8445.html

http://www.messynessychic.com

The Blog:  It’s about time :  http://bjws.blogspot.co.uk

Suzanne Valadon Part 5. Her son Maurice Utrillo, her husband Paul Mousis and her lover Erik Satie

Suzanne Valadon and her son Maurice (c.1889)
Suzanne Valadon and her son Maurice (c.1889)

My look at the life of Suzanne Valadon would not be complete if I didn’t spend some time looking at the early years of her son Maurice and how he had such an effect on her life.  In my earlier blogs I told you that Suzanne, who was eighteen years at the time, gave birth to her son on December 26th 1883.  She was unmarried at the time and would never reveal the identity of the father.   She decided on the name Maurice for her son, reasoning that as none of her previous or present lovers had that Christian name it would therefore not give a hint as to who actually was Maurice’s father.  However in January 1891 she persuaded one of her former lovers, Miguel Utrillo to agree to sign the Act of Recognition naming himself as Maurice’s father.  The document was signed on February 27th 1891and it stated:

“…27 February 1891.  Act of Recognition of Maurice, Masculine Sex.  Born 26 December 1883 and inscribed on the 29th following at the mairie 18th arondissement as son of Marie Valadon and unnamed father.  Set up by us Charles-Paul-Auguste Bernard, assistant to the mayor, officer of the civil state 9th arondissement, on the declaration made by Michael (Miguel) Utrillo, 28 years of age, journalist of 50 Boulevard de Clichy, who has recognised as his son the aforementioned Maurice.  In the presence of Charles Mahut, 44 years of age, employed, residing in Paris, 5b Impasse Rodier, and of Félix Dunion, 44 years of age, waiter, residing in Paris, 3 rue Saint Rustique, who have signed with the petitioner and ourselves after reading.    Paris. 8 April 1891…”

One should note that the document refers to Suzanne by her original Christian name Marie (Marie-Clémentine) and not Suzanne, the name she changed it to on the advice of Toulouse-Lautrec.  So was Miguel really Maurice’s father, if not, why would he sign such a document?  It was not as if it was a “spur of the moment” decision as one can see by the dates at the start and the end of the document the process took almost six weeks to complete which would have given Miguel time to consider what he had been asked to sign and time to back out of the agreement.  Whether Miguel was the father we will probably never know.   She had many lovers as a teenager including Pierre-Puvis de Chavannes, the French artist.  There was also Adrian Boissy, the drunken accountant from an insurance company she met at the Moulin de Galette one night, and who according to Suzanne, took her to his home, plied her with drink and raped her. 

There is probably no greater love than that which a  mother gives to her children and although I am sure there was a maternal love between Suzanne and Maurice her maternal instinct must have been sorely tested as Maurice was not a normal child.  During his very early days Maurice was looked after solely by Suzanne’s mother, Madeleine, and their Breton maid, Catherine, whilst Suzanne pursued her career as an artist’s model.  To say that Maurice was not a typical child would be something of an understatement.  At times he would lie peacefully on his grandmother’s lap and then suddenly his body would become stiff and he would shudder violently, biting his lip until it bled and hold his breath until his whole face turned purple.  In later childhood this small waif-like little boy would throw himself on the floor in fits of rage.  Suzanne’s grandmother’s only solution was to give him some watered down wine to try and calm him down.  It was not Suzanne that spent the most time with him but his grandmother.  It was she who comforted him during his fits and rages.  It was she who fed and clothed him.  It was she who shared her bed at night with him.  It was she who gave him the nickname Mamau which stayed with him all his life.  Madeleine had spent little time or had shown much love towards her daughter Suzanne and she was now probably trying not to make the same mistake with her grandson.  In turn, Maurice loved his grandmother and revelled in her company.  Suzanne was not jealous of this grandmother/grandson close relationship, in fact as she had tried, without success, to please her mother all her life she was pleased that she had “given” her son to her mother as this had evoked so much pleasure.

Nu assis se coiffant by Suzanne Valadon (1896)
Nu assis se coiffant by Suzanne Valadon (1896)

At the age of five Suzanne enrolled Maurice at a nursery school, Pension La Flaiselle, in the rue Labat.  Her son hated the school, in fact he was terrified by it and yet although knowing his fear, Suzanne never walked the long distance up the hill to reach the place which, by doing so, would have afforded her son a modicum of comfort.  This terror Maurice felt began to have an effect on life at home as the older he got the more he would lapse into spells of depression often followed by bouts of extreme violence which manifested itself into the smashing of the household china and ripping down the curtains.  Despite the doctor’s prognosis that he would “grow out of it”, the violent episodes continued but at no time could Suzanne see the correlation between his mood swings and his unhappiness at the school.   Suzanne saw his terror of school life as a form of cowardice and whimpishness for one has to remember that as a child of Maurice’s age, Suzanne was completely fearless.  Suzanne showed Maurice little sympathy; on the contrary, she was embarrassed by his antics. When things got out of hand at home Suzanne would just leave the house to party or be with a lover and leave Maurice for her mother to handle.

Maurice playing with slingshot by Suzanne Valadon (1895)
Maurice playing with slingshot by Suzanne Valadon (1895)

It was in 1888 that a new lover for Suzanne came on to the scene in the form of a young wealthy banker, Paul Mousis, whom she had seen around the café-cabaret establishments, Auberge du Clou and the Chat Noir.  Mousis would mingle with the artists who were at the Auberge du Clou and because he was a generous man, he would keep them supplied with drinks, and by this gesture, he was accepted as “one of their own”.  The Auberge was just a short distance from Toulouse-Lautrec’s home and Mousis along with his new friends would often visit the painter’s home and join one of Lautrec’s frequent soirées and it was here that he met Suzanne, who was acting as Lautrec’s unofficial hostess.  Mousis was immediately besotted with this beautiful young French woman and within a few weeks of their first meeting he had proposed marriage.  She refused him but said that she would readily become his lover.  Her reasoning was quite simple.  Being Mousis’ lover meant that she was on equal terms with him, whereas marrying Mousis would make her his property and in some way subservient. 

During her late teens and early twenties Suzanne had a number of lovers and would often tire of them very quickly.  Mousis offered her not only his companionship and love-making but financial stability and yet Suzanne, three months into their relationship, strayed, this time towards the strange enigmatic musician and composer, Erik Satie whom she met whilst he was playing the piano at Le Chat Noir café.  Twenty-one year old Satie was a dropout from the Paris Conservatoire, who had given up the bourgeois lifestyle he had whilst living with his parents, and moved to the bohemian lifestyle of the Montmartrois.   One would have thought that Paul Mousis would have been horrified at this turn of events but he wasn’t, maybe because he too was having a liaison with another woman!   Satie was besotted with Suzanne.  He even proposed marriage to her on their first meeting.  He lavished upon her numerous gifts, took her for walks in the Luxembourg Gardens and strange as it may seem, he would often go out in the evening with Suzanne and Mousis.  This was indeed a ménage à trois.  However the leading role in this love triangle was always Suzanne.  She choreographed the love triangle.  She constantly fussed around Satie looking after all his needs, such as feeding him, darning his socks and cleaning for him.   In Ornella Volta’s 1989 book, Satie seen through his letters, the depth of his love for Suzanne can be clearly seen.  He wrote to his brother in 1893:

“…I shall have great difficulty in regaining possession of myself, loving this little person as I have loved her …she was able to take all of me. Time will do what at this moment I cannot do…”

Mousis was not deterred by the presence of Satie as he felt that Suzanne was the only woman who could satisfy him sexually.  However all good things had to come to an end and Mousis became tired of the love triangle and told Suzanne it must end.  She refused to give up Satie and so Mousis went off for six months.  He did return and once again took up with Suzanne but now it was the turn of Satie to complain and tell Suzanne to end her relationship with Mousis.  Once again and highlighting her control of the love triangle she refused and Satie ended the ménage à trois being unable to share her with Mousis.

Portrait of Erik Satie  by Suzanne Valadon (c.1892)
Portrait of Erik Satie by Suzanne Valadon (c.1892)

In 1894 Suzanne and Mousis set up house at No. 2 rue Cortot, just two doors away from the house belonging to Satie.  After a short while, neighbours would refer to Suzanne as Madame Mousis.  She did visit Satie and it was in 1892 in his one-room house, two doors away, at No. 6 rue Cortot, that she had painted the twenty-six year old musician’s  portrait.  It is entitled Portrait of Erik Satie and it can now be found in the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.  It was Suzanne’s first attempt at portraiture in oil.  It measures just 22 x 41 cms and because the height of the portrait is double that of its width there is an elongated look to it.  Satie almost fills the canvas.  His facial expression in this painting is one of dourness.  His red lips are partly hidden by his waxed moustache and the pince-nez glasses give him an intellectual air. 

In the summer of 1886 Suzanne and Satie parted company in acrimonious circumstances.  It is not clear what happened to initiate this final breakdown of their relationship, but final it was.  It is alleged that Satie was devastated, hurling himself on the floor weeping bitter tears and bitterly declaring that he was left with “nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness”.  In 1889 Satie left Montmartre and his one and only true love, Suzanne Valadon. It was also 1896 that Mousis and Suzanne were said to have married, but did they ever officially marry?  Although Mousis was often referred to as “Suzanne’s first husband” there is no official record of their marriage or divorce in either the mairies of Montmartre or Pierrefitte-Montmagny and maybe when her friends talk of  her marriage to Mousis it was just a figurative expression rather than a literal one.

Nu à la toilette by Suzanne Valadon (1892)
Nu à la toilette by Suzanne Valadon (1892)

If we go back four years to 1892 there was a change in Suzanne Valadon’s lifestyle.  Her wealthy lover, Paul Mousis had tired of the bohemian lifestyle of Montmartre and wanted to return to his former bourgeois lifestyle which he believed befitted a successful banker and so he decided to lease a house in the village of Pierrefitte, situated in the Seine valley, and which lay twenty kilometres north of Paris.  This was to be a weekend retreat for himself, Suzanne and her family.  Suzanne’s grandmother, Madeleine, was delighted to move back to a quiet rural village similar to the one she had been brought up in.   She was now in her late sixties, a somewhat wizened old woman who suffered badly from rheumatism and who was still addicted to alcohol and spent much of her time in a semi-drunken haze.  Her one love, her one great pleasure in life was her grandson Maurice.  He still suffered from swiftly changing moods and his grandmother could only control his uncontrollable rages by plying him with glasses of wine.   However the alcohol did not always have the desired effect and instead of calming him down it lead to him demanding more glasses of it until he virtually passed out. He had become an alcoholic.

In 1894 Mousis, who loved living in the area decided to build the family a new house atop the Butte Pinson which was between the village of Pierrefitte and the village of Montmagny.  Suzanne was still uncertain about the move away from Montmartre so Mousis told her that the building of the new house was simply a business investment.  He also tried to persuade Suzanne that to achieve a great artistic standing she needed to move away from the chaos of Montmartre life.  As a compromise he agreed that Suzanne should keep her Montmartre studio in the rue Cortot.  Suzanne would commute back and forth between their home at Montmagny and her studio in Montmartre by her own pony and trap which Mousis had given her.  Soon she began to appreciate life at Montmagny and developed a passion for flowers and the enjoyment of gardening. 

Notwithstanding her new lifestyle and her love of nature, she was not able to ignore the ever-increasing problem she had in her life – her son Maurice and his worsening mental behaviour.  By his teenage years he like his grandmother had become addicted to alcohol but now it was not just wine, it was now the “green devil” itself, absinthe.  In his late teens he had also become much more violent during his uncontrollable rages and Mousis and Suzanne consulted many doctors and psychiatrists.  It culminated in 1901, just before his nineteenth birthday, when during a particularly nasty rage a doctor was called to forcibly sedate him and he was committed to the asylum of Saint-Anne where he remained for three months.   This was a terrible time for Suzanne as it was during her son’s confinement she also learnt of the death of her good friend and mentor, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, who had died in a sanatorium at the age of thirty-seven.  The cause of death was partly put down to complications arising from his alcoholism and Suzanne must have wondered what her son’s fate would be.

Whilst Maurice remained in the asylum, Suzanne filled her life by concentrating on her art and spent nearly all the time at her studio in rue Cortot where she completed a series of nude drawings for which she served as her own model.  Maurice was finally released from the asylum and according to his mother, “he looked better than he has for years – and so beautiful”.  He was off drink but was very listless, avoided everybody and sat reading his books.  A turning point came when Suzanne persuaded him to take up art as a hobby.  Reluctant at first, he soon took a liking to it and within two years, would spend most of his time in his mother’s studio in Montmartre.  In that time, he had completed no fewer than 150 works. By the age of twenty-three he was living in her studio.  The only think he disliked about life in Montmartre was the people.  People everywhere and he just wanted to shut himself away from them all.  They annoyed him and soon the rages returned and to cope with the rages he turned back to drink and would, during the day, paint with excruciating hangovers.  Despite his abhorrence of people he would still go out and wander around Montmartre painting en plein air.  When buoyed by alcohol he would engage in conversation with others in the drinking establishments he frequented.  He always introduced himself as Maurice Valadon, adamantly shunning the name “Utrillo”.  The drinking resulted in his old habits returning – the violent outbursts of rage often culminating in fights with the locals. 

One day in 1909, which was to have an effect on his life and the life of his mother Suzanne, he was sitting outside painting when he was approached by a young man who introduced himself as a fellow artist.  He was André Utter.

                                               …………………………. to be continued.