Maurice Utrillo was born Maurice Valadon on 26 December 1883, in Paris. He was the son of Suzanne Valadon, an artist’s model who posed for Berthe Morisot, Jean-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Edgar Degas amongst others before becoming a celebrated artist in her own right. Utrillo grew up in Montmartre and was raised by his mother, who encouraged him to paint after he showed a troubling inclination for truancy and alcoholism. Utrillo never undertook and formal training, teaching himself with his mother’s support and guidance. It was around 1904 that Utrillo committed himself to art, drawing and painting cityscapes and vignettes of his local neighbourhood of Montmartre.
Utrillo achieved acclaim during his ‘white period’ (c. 1909-14), so-called for his lavish use of zinc white. He would sometimes mix the pigment with plaster, utilising the rich textures to depict the ageing, cracked walls of Montmartre. Utrillo tended towards a neutral palette and avoided fine details with his brushwork, favouring an atmospheric portrayals of the streets that feel laden with endearing familiarity. Amongst his most favoured subjects was the Lapin Agile, a cabaret club that was frequented by the artistic and literary circles of the time. In 1924, his mother moved Utrillo to a château near Lyon, fearing for his health wit the temptations of Montmartre on his doorstep. In 1928, he was awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French government.
Utrillo became increasingly religious in his middle age and, by the mid-1930s, he had settled near Paris in the suburb of Le Vésinet with his new wife, Lucie Pauwels. However, by this point he was too ill to paint en plein air and would work from his window, from postcards, or from memory. Although he continued to paint into his old age, Utrillo’s work increasingly lost is original vigour and charm, and, after a life plagued with alcoholism, he died of health issues in Dax, Aquitaine, on 5 November 1955.
Utrillo’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the Tate Collection, London.
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