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Artists Maurice Utrillo
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Maurice Utrillo

French Painter

Movements and Styles: Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Expressionism

Born: Dec. 26, 1883 - Paris, France

Died: Nov. 5, 1955 - Dax, France

Maurice Utrillo Timeline

Quotes

"As recognition for my efforts, I received harsh sarcasm. Still, I pressed onward. In the beginning I sold my canvases for two francs, and later, little by little, I entered into this difficult career as my life's work."
Maurice Utrillo
"The people here are idiots-idiots! There's not an hour I don't think of it. I'm shut out here and they won't let me go. I would rather be there than anywhere."
Maurice Utrillo
"After Maurice was born to Suzanne Valadon, she went to Renoir, for whom she had modeled nine months previously. Renoir looked at the baby and said, 'He can't be mine, the color is terrible!' Next she went to Degas, for whom she had also modeled. He said, 'He can't be mine, the form is terrible!' At a café, Valadon saw an artist she knew named Miguel Utrillo, to whom she spilled her woes. The man told her to call the baby Utrillo: 'I would be glad to put my name to the work of either Renoir or Degas!'"
Anecdote on Utrillo's paternity

"On a particularly boring day, I had a clever but unfortunate inspiration. I seized a piece of cardboard, some tubes of tint and petroleum base - since I lacked real oil - and, confronting a typical Montmartre street corner, I suddenly found myself a practitioner of this difficult and thankless art of painting."

Maurice Utrillo Signature

Synopsis

Maurice Utrillo's life could not have been more bohemian. A romantic concept, la vie bohème was for many people who lived such an existence in Paris of the late 19th and early 20th century far less dazzling in reality. Born to the former circus acrobat turned artist's model and eventually avant garde artist, Suzanne Valadon (she was only 18 at the time) Utrillo never knew who his father was. It was rumored that it could have been anyone from Puvis de Chavannes to Renoir to a young and little known painter named Boissy.

When he was 21, Utrillo took up painting at the encouragement of his mother, who had learned to paint while posing for artists like Morisot, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Degas and had become a skillful artist in her own right. Eventually, the two shared a studio in Montmartre. At age 22, he sold his first painting and by 1909 he was exhibiting his work at the prestigious Salon d'Automne. By 1910, he had achieved considerable critical acclaim, having developed a style of landscape painting that combined features of Post-Impressionism and Cubism. His landscapes and cityscapes earned him lucrative sales and national notoriety, including the Cross of the Legion of Honor from the French government in 1928. Despite having been shunned by the French artistic establishment during much of his career, he is considered one of the pioneers of The School of Paris, the pre-World War I, modern artistic movement characterized by experimentation and pluralism.

Key Ideas

The first couple of decades of the 20th century were tumultuous and formative: Modern Art took form in Paris, which was a sort of cultural laboratory for creative types. Utrillo was associated with a group of notoriously decadent artists known of as "Les Maudits" - "The Cursed Ones" - along with his mother, Suzanne Valadon, Chaim Soutine, and Amadeo Modigliani.
Utrillo's most frequent subjects were buildings in the Paris neighborhood of Montmartre, well known as a refuge for the city's bohemian types - artists, writers, poets, and the like. Some of his favorite haunts such as the Lapin Agile, where he was likely to encounter more established artists like Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, are represented numerous times with only slight variations from canvas to canvas.
The quintessential struggling artist and also taking a cue from avant garde innovators like Picasso and Degas, Utrillo often used unusual if not everyday materials like cardboard in place of more expensive canvas to produce his paintings. Unlike his idols and mentors, however, Utrillo was virtually untrained and his greatest achievement must surely have been adapting his unrefined technique to successive avant garde styles - Impressionism, Cubism, Expressionism - to attain considerable critical and financial success.

Most Important Art

Maurice Utrillo Famous Art

La Butte Pinson (1905-8)

In 1896, when Utrillo was a young teenager and already struggling with alcoholism and getting into trouble in wild, bohemian Paris, he moved to a house on la Butte Pinson, a hill in the suburb of Montmagny along with his mother, stepfather, and maternal grandmother. It was in Montmagny where he first began painting, creating a series of works between 1905 and 1908 that were evidence of his natural abilities as he was largely untrained artistically.

In this painting, which demonstrates the profound, lingering influence of Impressionism with its softened brushwork, including the blurred lines and hazy light, Utrillo places leafless trees in the foreground between the viewer and the colorful huts in the distance. The huts are the bright spots in a winter scene featuring mostly cloudy skies - there's just a hint of light blue in the upper right corner - and a snow-covered ground. The graceful movement of the tree branches, which lighten as they reach the sky, draw the eye upward.
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