Maurice Utrillo: Tragedy to Triumph
Utrillo was born Maurice Valadon on December 25, 1883 in the Montmartre quarter of Paris, France. He is one of the few famous painters of Montmartre who was actually born there.
Maurice Valadon was the result of an affair between a teen-age model, Marie-Clémentine Valadon, and, an amateur painter. Maurice Valadon was only a child when the Spanish writer and art critic, Miguel Utrillo, a friend of his mother's, in a spirit of kindness, bestowed upon him his own name.
Maurice Utrillo mother’s was a clothing designer and painter's model who posed for many well known artists of the day: Berthe Morisot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. She also worked as a circus-rider for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Toulouse-Lautrec introduced her -- an artist herself, painting under the name of Suzanne Valadon -- to the great master Edgar Degas, who taught her to paint. With no real training, other than what his mother taught him, Maurice drew and painted what he saw all around him as he grew up in Montmartre. He presented strange landscapes which delighted the people in the street and astonished the art connoisseurs of the day.
School was difficult for the young Utrillo. He became an alcoholic by the age of 18 and spent a brief period in an asylum. This ended up being a blessing in disguise because the doctors suggested he paint as part of his rehabilitation. Maurice found he had a talent for painting.
Critics took note of his work in 1910. By 1920, he had become a legendary figure, internationally known and living the high life. Many critics regard him the centuries’ finest painter of urban scenes. In 1929, the French government awarded him the Cross of the Legion of Honor.
Utrillo is one of the few twentieth century painters whose works please the both critics and the general public. Despite changing tastes and fluctuations of the art market, Utrillo’s canvasses bring higher and higher prices each year – paintings of the "white period" are now sold for millions of dollars.
When he was in his later years, Utrillo still remembered and painted the Bohemian and working class Paris in which he lived as an unhappy young man. Sadly he never returned to visit those place of his happy youth.
In 1935, at age 52, he married Lucie Valore and moved to Le Vesinet, just outside of Paris. He died on November 5, 1955, and is buried in the Cimetière Saint-Vincent in Montmartre.