Maurice Utrillo

Biography

Maurice Utrillo was born in the Montmartre quarter of Paris in 1883. His mother Suzanne Valadon, an eighteen-year-old artist’s model and former circus acrobat, never revealed the identity of Utrillo’s father. However, when the artist was a young boy, Spanish painter and friend of Suzanne Miguel Utrillo signed paternity documents declaring himself the father so as to legitimatize Maurice’s birth. The artist’s mother taught herself to paint as she posed for the likes of Morisot, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec, who introduced her to her future mentor Degas. When Utrillo was twenty-one, he began suffering from mental illness and started painting with his mother’s encouragement. Developing his talent solely on his mother’s basic teaching and his own self-instruction, Utrillo achieved great international acclaim by 1920 and was even awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor by the French Government in 1929. Plagued by alcoholism and bouts of mental illness, Utrillo was interned in mental asylums throughout his life. He found religion in his later years, marrying Lucie Valore when he was fifty-two, and moved with his bride from Montmartre to Le Vésinet just outside of Paris. He lived into his early seventies and was buried in Montmartre.

 

Utrillo became known for his scenes of the world around him in Montmartre. With the clear influences of Pissarro and Cezanne, Utrillo’s paintings exhibit the artist’s penchant for composition, perfected simplification, and color theory. Many of the artist’s more prominent pieces come from his 1909-1914 “white period,” in which Utrillo’s paintings take on distinctive white tints and shades. His later works are often categorized as the “colorist period” for their emphasis on brighter hues. As the artist grew older, declining health prevented him from painting in the open air, and he was left reliant on post cards, views from indoors, and his own memory. Even still, Utrillo is often lauded by artists and critics as “the century’s greatest painter of urban scenes.”

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