Maurice Utrillo | The Master of Art in Montmartre

French artist Maurice Utrillo was born Maurice Valadon, on Christmas night, 25 December, 1883, at 3 Rue la Poteau, next door to the Church of Notre-Dame de Cligancourt. in the Montmartre quarter of Paris, France. Utrillo was the illegitimate son of the artist Suzanne Valadon (born Marie-Clémentine Valadon), who was then, an eighteen-year-old artist’s model. She never revealed who the father was. Speculation rose that the father could be an equally young amateur painter named Boissy, the well-established painter Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, or even with Auguste Renoir, all of whom Valadon had modelled for.

  • In 1891, Catalan journalist, artist and art critic, Miquel Utrillo (aka Miquel Utrillo i Morlius), signed a legal document acknowledging paternity; although questions remained as to whether he was in fact the child’s father.

Suzanne Valadon’s mother was left to raise the young Maurice Utrillo, who soon showed a troubling inclination towards truancy and alcoholism. When a mental illness took hold of the 21-year-old Utrillo in 1904, his mother encouraged him to take up painting. He soon showed true artistic talent. With no training beyond what his mother taught him, the young Utrillo drew and painted what he saw around Montmartre.

Utrillo became a French artist of the School of Paris movement, who specialised in local cityscapes, and became one of the few famous painters, who were born in Montmartre. After 1910, his work attracted critical attention, and by 1920 he was internationally acclaimed. In 1928, the French government awarded Utrillo the Cross of the Légion d’honneur.

In middle age, Utrillo became fervently religious, and in 1935, at the age of 52, he married Lucie Valore and moved to Le Vésinet, outside of Paris. By then, he was too ill to work in the open air and painted landscapes viewed from windows, postcards, or painted from memory.

  • Although his life was plagued by alcoholism, Utrillo lived into his seventies. He died on 5 November, 1955 at the Hotel Splendid, in Dax of a lung disease; and was buried in the Cimetière Saint-Vincent in Montmartre.

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 Source: Dorival, Bernard. The School of Paris, Thames & Hudson: London, 1962
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