as an art student anywhere in a patriarchal society it takes more effort to learn about female artists (especially women and people of color). So, I have been making that effort myself. For my Painting III Honors course, I did a presentation on Suzanne Valadon who I will refer to by two names which will make sense a bit further into the slides. **following images are slides from the presentation**
Suzanne is impressive because of her artistic talent as well as a woman in the late 1800s to early 1900s who was un-apologetically herself. At a time when women did not have autonomy or the language to assert themselves, she did. She came from very little and carved her own place in art history.
there is some speculation about Marie having intimate relationships with Renoir and/or Degas. It’s unclear but the sense I got while doing research was this wasn’t an act done out of pressure but by choice. She chose to embrace her own sexuality and moved forward in her life with confidence.
two more examples of art Marie posed for by well known French artists.
Marie supported Maurice’s art. He specialized in cityscapes and has appeared in exhibits here in New York.
some earlier drawings of women in their everyday life by Suzanne.
here I compared a nude painting by Cezanne who also captures a less idealized form but it is a great example of how Suzanne showed women with joy or embracing pleasure. The figure in Cezanne’s painting seems expressionless and on display while Suzanne’s seems comfortable in her own body while doing a regular activity like getting dressed.
Suzanne posed for the above Degas painting of a woman in a tub.
Suzanne was the first self-taught artist accepted into this salon which was a big deal for obvious reasons but also because a lot of post-impressionist artists rebelled against the standards imposed to be accepted into academic requirements of artists. Her rebellious spirit being let in seems extra sneaky and scandalous.
here are different paintings through a large span of time. Suzanne focused less on figurative work and more on still lives later in her life. However, the center painting, Adam and Eve is of her and her young lover, Andre; she later added the fig leaves to be accepted into an exhibit. She was 44 and he was 23 when she did this painting. There is a double standard around men dating younger women being celebrated and older women dating younger men being judged or labeled a cougar. Both objectify people. Nothing I learned or have shared here paints Suzanne as someone who follows rules for rules sake. Andre is around the same age as her son which feels questionable to me, but I also experienced my father dating women around my age after his second marriage ended. Who am I to judge what was right for Suzanne. She seems to have followed her own compass with everything else in her life.
this painting on the right has been responded to by a lot of modern and contemporary artists as a reflection on the male gaze/objectifying women’s bodies in art. Here is one by Mickalene Thomas that is at the Brooklyn Museum: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/5044
Art historians are only now starting to question why women of color in paintings have been assumed to be maids or supporting characters like in Olympia by Edouard Manet’s Portrait of Laure. And, Suzanne, used a Black model to create a previously idealized figure like Venus. There is a deeper question about depicting a woman of color but not sharing monetary gain with her for the piece. It is a step to work against objectifying women for the male gaze and including all women in what it means to be a woman but it is all interconnected.
thanks for journeying with me through this presentation. I hope it exposed you to things you didn’t already know, inspired you somehow and left you with more questions you follow.