Art History, Artists, Painters, Who was/is

Who was Suzanne Valadon?

Marie-Clémentine Valadon, or as she was best known, Suzanne Valadon was a French painter whose style was never confined within a tradition. She was also a model who posed to important painters, appearing in paintings such as Dance at Bougival and Dance in the city both by Renoir; or in 1885’s portrait by Lautrec.

Known to be quite independent and rebellious, she only attended primary school until age 11, when she began working in a variety of areas including a milliner’s workshop, a factory making funeral wreaths, a market selling vegetables, a waitress, and then finally in the circus.

Valadon never attended an academy. It is believed that Valadon was a self-taught artist. What is clear is that she pursued her interest in art, first working as a model for other painters, what gave her the opportunity to observe and learn their techniques, then becoming a painter herself. Her earliest signed and dated work is a Self-portrait from 1883, drawn in charcoal and pastel.

Self-portrait by Suzanne Valadon, 1883 – Pompidou Paris
(Photo credit: WikiArt)

As it was said before, she was not confined to a style. Her works presents both symbolist and post-impressionist aesthetics. Her paintings and drawings included portraits, landscapes and still lifes, which are noted for their strong compositions and vibrant colours. However, Valadon is especially famous for her female nudes. They’re depictions of women’s bodies from a woman’s perspective and attracted attention for being the representation of unidealized bodies, unfollowing the conventions of the time.

The subjects chosen by her was often reinterpretations of old master’s themes: women bathing, reclining nudes and interior scenes. She preferred to paint working-class models, maybe because of her own status as a working-class woman, as it was suggested by art historian Patricia Mathews. Another explanation is that her marginalised status which allowed her to enter into ‘male domain’ of art as a model, allowed her to remain after, as an artist.

In 1895, the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel exhibited twelve etchings by Valadon in which presented women in various stages of their toilettes. Later her work was regularly exposed at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris.

Self-portrait by Valadon, 1898 –
Museum of Fine Arts Houston
(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


  • Valadon spent nearly 40 years of her life as an artist.
  • Her first models were from her own family as her son, mother and niece.
  • Valadon’s earliest known female nude was executed in 1892.
  • Suzanne Valadon became the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
  • She grew up in poverty with her mother, who was laundress and unmarried, she never met her father.
  • She was the mother of the painter Maurice Utrillo.