Biography of Maurice Utrillo

“When, at 1 p.m. on the day after Christmas in 1883, Marie-Clémentine Valadon gave birth to the infant she named Maurice, at 10 Rue du Poteau, at the foot of the Butte Montmartre, no one knows if it was a relief or a burden for her.

Maurice Utrillo is first of all an illegitimate birth in Montmartre.  The mother, herself a love child, had been a circus acrobat and then modelled for renowned painters like:

before becoming a painter in turn, and famous under the name of Suzanne Valadon. 

As for the father, might he be a certain Boissy or some other of those who swept through this woman’s rather stormy life?  Unless it is really this Miguel Utrillo y Morlius, Catalan painter, decorator and publicist who was later to accept, perhaps out of the simple bounty of his soul, to recognise the child and give him the first part of his name?  “Utrillo” is a weighty heritage like the characters of Emile Zola, and which resulted in an alcoholism that was as precocious as it was tenacious, nervous breakdowns, bouts from ethyl, downtime in asylums, attempted suicides, acts of violence leading their author to the police station....

Or it is at least, after a short try at working in a bank, which ended badly, a bohemian life played out mainly in the saloons of Montmartre; and yet also paradoxically framed for a few summers in a comfortless castle in the region near Lyons.  It was exploitation of his talent by a voracious merchant and then quick success dilapidated by drink.  Utrillo is also a passionate attachment to a rather distant mother who fearlessly took her son’s best friend, André Utter – twenty years younger than she – as lover, then made him her second husband.…

It was a late and fairly unplanned baptism that nonetheless led to a sincere faith.  And it was finally the unexpected marriage with the widow of a Belgian banker – prompting the mother’s jealousy, but also a source of comfort for the painter’s wounded soul.

There are the broad lines – there are so many biographies that bring out the details – of this life that seems, in many respects, to have been traced out by destiny as a demonstration of human misery….”

“… Alcoholic?  Crazy?  Genius in search of himself?  What label – if one is needed – would stick to Utrillo?....”

It is nonetheless true that the son, like the mother, stemmed from an atypical lineage – both born of anonymous fathers, they inherited this uncertain ascendance and paid the heavy price that right-minded society demanded of this kind of lapse in the moral order.

1904-1906           Montmagny period

1907-1908           Impressionist period

1909 - 1914         White period, the greatest

1922-1955           Coloured period, lively tones and predominant gays

Suzanne Valadon, Maurice Utrillo, André Utter… a cursed triad!  The legend that these extreme personalities engendered on the mythical soils of the Butte left an indelible imprint on the history of art.

Jean Fabris, Utrillo, Folie?, Paris 1992.
Page | by Dr. Radut