(Paris, 1883 – Dax, 1955)
Utrillo, the painter of Montmartre and old Parisian churches, he knew how envelop his painting with innocence. We are tempted to qualify him as a Naïve painter.
But this classification doesn’t resist analysing of his paintings, showing an extensive knowledge of linear rhythm and the most sensible graduations of tone. In many paintings, Utrillo reveals an incisive and implacable line, giving to masses original presence. In theses sober and cold paintings, he creates a melancholic atmosphere.
Son of Suzanne Valadon, Maurice Utrillo had a troubled childhood. Turbulent, he wasn’t able to pursue his studies. He starts to drink very early and has violent anger crises. His health is threated and he went at the age of 18 for the first time in rehab at Sainte-Anne Hospital. At his exit, his mothers forced him to start painting, in order to calm down his penchant for alcohol. Made since 1903 at Montmagny or Montmartre, his first paintings are inspired by Impressionism – with contrasted colours – without announcing his future talent.
Clovis Sagot presented the painter at his gallery, where in 1909 Libaude, a other art dealer, noticed Utrillo and acquired his production in exchange for a modest monthly payment.
What we called White Period – certainly the best – stretches from 1909 to 1915. The paintings of this period have a very particular touch, where the painter transcribes the white walls of Montmartre, binding colours with a mix of glue and chalk powder.
Even if Utrillo started to paint from post card, he managed to reproduce the disused charm of the Butte and its cabarets (Utrillo painted numerous variations of the Lapin Agile pub). Paradoxically, the artwork of this “artist maudit” nine times interned for alcoholism – insulted, sometimes beat – isn’t desperate. It is just troubled, with a glimmer of hope, and always this purity of child’s eyes.
From 1910, critics and writers start to show interest in Utrillo, as Elie Faure and Octave Mirbeau. Francis Jourdain invited him to Salon d’Automne. His first solo show is in 1913 at the gallery Eugène Blot. Utrillo surrounds his volumes with intense and rectilinear line, then animates his streets with little comical personages, mostly women, and accentuates the proportions: short chest and voluminous bottom. After his exhibition to gallery Lepoutre in 1919, he became renown and released from financial problem.
Watched by his mother and André Utter who prevent him to drink, almost cloistered Rue Corot and then, from 1923, at Saint-Bernard castel – where the three painters share a studio – he creates intensively, his only occupation.
His exhibitions succeed one another. In 1925, Serge Diaghilev, then The Comic Opera in 1928, ordered decors to Utrillo. In 1935, Utrillo married the widow of Robert Pauwels, a Belgium banker and collector of his paintings. They lived in affluence thanks to the contract he signed with the art dealer Paul Petrides.
However, his genius seems weaken, as the material comfort removes his inspiration. Utrillo stops to drink and became devout, according several representations of churches in his painting.