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.