(Paris, 1883 – Dax, 1955)
Maurice Utrillo, the painter of Montmartre and old Parisian churches, knew how envelop his painting with innocence. We are tempted to qualify him as a Naïve painter.
But this classification doesn’t resist analysing more 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 an original presence. In these sober and cold paintings, he created a melancholic atmosphere.
The son of Suzanne Valadon, Maurice Utrillo had a troubled childhood. Turbulent, he wasn’t able to pursue his studies. He started to drink very early on and had violent anger crises. His health was threated and he went, at the age of 18, for the first time in rehab at the Sainte-Anne Hospital. Once he left, his mother forced him to start painting, in order to calm down his penchant for alcohol. Made since 1903 at Montmagny or Montmartre, his first paintings were inspired by Impressionism – with contrasted colours – without announcing his future talent.
Clovis Sagot presented the painter at his gallery, where in 1909 Libaude, another art dealer, noticed Utrillo and acquired his production in exchange for a modest monthly payment.
What we called his 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 cards, 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” who was nine times hospitalized for alcoholism – insulted, and sometimes beat – was not at all desperate. He was simply troubled, with a glimmer of hope, and always with this purity of a child’s eyes.
From 1910, critics and writers started to show interest in Utrillo, such as Elie Faure and Octave Mirbeau. Francis Jourdain invited him to the Salon d’Automne. His first solo show was in 1913 at the gallery Eugène Blot. Utrillo surrounded his volumes with intense and rectilinear lines, then animated his streets with little comical personages, mostly women, and accentuated the proportions: short chest and voluminous bottom. After his exhibition at the gallery Lepoutre in 1919, he became renown and was released from financial problems.
Watched by his mother and André Utter who prevented him to drink, were almost cloistered at the Rue Corot and then, from 1923, at Saint-Bernard castel – where the three painters share a studio. Here, he created intensively, it was his only occupation.
His exhibitions succeeded one another. In 1925, Serge Diaghilev, then The Comic Opera in 1928, ordered decors from Utrillo. In 1935, Utrillo married the widow of Robert Pauwels, a Belgium banker and collector of his paintings. They lived an affluent life thanks to the contract he had signed with the art dealer Paul Petrides.
However, his genius seemed to have weakened, as the new material comfort he experienced removed his inspiration. Utrillo stoped drinking and became devout, according to several representations of churches in his painting.