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Maurice Utrillo

Biographies
Maurice Utrillo

*  1883 Paris
† 1955 Dax/Landes


Maurice Utrillo was born in Paris, the illegitimate son of the artist Suzanne Valadon, on 26 December 1883. Under his mother's tutelage he began to paint in 1902, at first in the streets of Montmartre. Working in the tradition of the conventional veduta, he depicted streets, corner buildings, rows of buildings, fountains and avenues captured at different seasons of the year in a style influenced by the lyrical realism of Camille Pissarro and Albert Sisley. However, by deploying a subtle palette - mainly yellows, turquoise, maroon and zinc white - he suffused the scenes with atmospheric qualities that evoke feelings either of familiarity or of alienation in the viewer. Known as his 'White Period' (période blanche), the years between 1909 and 1914 represent the acme of Utrillo's creativity. During it he reduced his palette to white shading into greys. He also mixed his paints with sand, plaster and lime to render the physical substance of his subject matter, walls in particular. In 1910 the artist was discovered by the art critics F. Jourdan and E. Faure. Their appreciation of his talent enabled Utrillo to take part for the first time in the 1912 Salon d'Automne. Until 1914 Utrillo travelled in Brittany and Corsica; his works assumed an increasingly luminous quality which greatly enriched his earlier ascetic conception of reality. In 1924 he exhibited together with his mother Suzanne Valadon at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris and was offered a contract for a year. However, that same year he also attempted to commit suicide, which was probably the result of years of alcohol abuse. A powerful natural talent, Utrillo made an enormous contribution to consolidating painterly structure and texture as opposed to the conception informing Impressionism. He was also important as a draughtsman. In 1926 he did stage scenery and designed costumes for Djaghilev's 'Ballets Russes'. He received public recognition in 1928, when he was made a member of the Legion of Honour. Starting where Impressionism left off, Utrillo became the best-known portrayer of Paris, especially Montmartre, painting both from nature and from postcards. His poetic interpretations of the streets and squares of Montmartre contributed substantially to popularizing a romantic image of that quarter. However, when he painted people, they were always represented as solitary beings, lost in social isolation. A first comprehensive retrospective of Utrillo's work was held at the 1943 Salon d'Automne.