Satie Valdon

The Infernal Trio: The Terrible Suzanne

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Montmartre, the crazy butte, the hill that I rebaptized Mount-Mad, couldn’t help but offer us an extraordinary example of domestic madness. Love should never follow rules, and in Montmartre, he surely didn’t, as the story of the “Cursed Trinity” or “Infernal Trio”, whose number 1 member was Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938), clearly shows.

From the Lapin Agile (for the history of this extraordinary cabaret read: The killers’ cabaretand about itsCharacters) wasn’t unusual to hear terrible screams or the crashing of glass coming from the house of the trio, 12 rue Cortot, the oldest and most artist-packed house in Montmartre, today turned into a museum. Its tenants became so celebrated they deserved a plaque outside.

(you can find the website of Montmartre Museum here)

Rue Cortot
Rue Cortot and the sign of Montmartre’s museum
12, rue Cortot
12, rue Cortot: the magic house in Montmartre which hosted so many artists to become the Montmartre Museum.
Targa del 12, rue Cortot
Plaque of 12, rue Cortot. Just an idea of who lived within those walls…

Since 1875, Auguste Renoir had his atelier here and painted masterpieces like the Bal du Moulin de la Galette (1876) or La Balançoire (1876) but this was before moving and meet the future and most famous tenant of rue Cortot, Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938), who was his lover and model (he was 41 and she 17, but after all her former lover, the painter Puvis de Chavannes, was 58!)

Opere Renoir
Two paintings Renoir painted while living at 12 rue Cortot: Bal du Moulin de la Galette (left) and La balançoire (right)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir(1841-1919), the painter, tenant of rue Cortot and then lover of the woman who’ll later move to the same address, Susanne Valadon.

Her name wasn’t really Suzanne but Marie-Clémentine. The nom de plume “Suzanne” was a joke about the fact that Marie sat (and not just that) for painters who were much older than her, and that made her story similar to the biblical tale of poor Susanna, who was hunted by old perverts.

So, it wasn’t a flattering nickname, but she didn’t mind it, even because it had been suggested by no less than the egregious prankster Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, painter-storyteller of the crazy Parisian nightlife, a dear friend of Marie, and probably something more. Toulouse-Lautrec saw in Suzanne something more than a beautiful model, and apart from painting her, urged her to show her drawings (she drew!) to another timeless name of the history of art: Edgar Degas, the painter of ballet dancers. Degas later became the most important mentor of Suzanne Valadon.

Suzanne Valadon modella
In the middle, a photo of young Suzanne; 1) Dance at Bougival – 3) Dance in the City – 4) the Braid, are just three of the works of Auguste Renoir for which Suzanne sat; 2, 5, 6 are portraits of her made by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Navigating through the thousand articles about her, we find out that Suzanne’s art was never acknowledged while she was alive because she was a woman, and a “lost” woman to top that, but I don’t think so, and I won’t feel sorry for her this way (something that she would have absolutely hated, anyway). Certainly, the “respectable” bourgeois would have raised an eyebrow at the sole thought of buying a painting from such a tramp with a scandalous life, but I don’t think that the proud Suzanne could care less. After all, she wasn’t denied the only acknowledgment she cared about: her first buyers were the best artists of her time, something a lot rewarding considering the times themselves, and let’s add that Suzanne was the first woman to be admitted into the famous Independent Artists Society (which managed the Salon des Indépendents where Seurat, Braque, Chagall, de Chirico, Modigliani, Matisse, Rousseau and other unknown people like them exposed their works…). So, those who knew something about art had noticed her, you bet!

Suzanne Valadon La boîte à violon (1923)
The Violin Case by Suzanne Valadon (1923), a proof of the influence that the Fauves and Cezanne had had on her style. Suzanne’s painting style was instinctive, vibrant with colors and didn’t follow any rules, just like her.
Opere Suzanne Valadon
Some paintings by Suzanne Valdon: from the left: Louson and Raminou (the cat, one of her favorite models), on the top right a view of the gardens in rue Cortot, where she lived until her death, right under, a portrait of her son Maurice playing, and a self-portrait.
Omaggio a Valdon
An Homage to Suzanne Valadon, Street Art in Montmartre.

More than just dynamic, Suzanne Valadon was literally a bomb, terminal liar, a lunatic whose eyes had swept half of Montmartre off their feet. One amongst all: Erik Satie (1866-1925), composer and pianist who was so obsessed with esoterism that they nicknamed him “Esoterik Satie”, and naturally… crazy, as any good montmartrian; for example, he only ate white food.

(for a little taste of his talent, click here and go on reading; repeat two times a day to improve your mood).

Satie Valdon
Santiago Rusinol, A Romanza (1894) Barcellona, National Museum of Catalan Art. The woman at the piano is Suzanne Valadon and the man listening to her, enraptured, is Erik Satie, her lover at the time.

Their relationship was brief, passionate, turbulent. He covered her in letters, poems and wanted to marry her. She felt asphyxiated. Bye-bye Satie! Suzanne made this portrait of him right before they broke up.

Erik Satie dipinto da Suzanne.
Erik Satie (1892) portrayed by Suzanne.

Suzanne was element number 1 of the Infernal Trio or rather the apex. She left no insult unpunished and screaming at her never bode well. The only one who could be aggressive with her and hope to be forgiven was her son Maurice Utrillo, nicknamed Litrillo because in his veins there was more wine than blood. Maurice was element number 2 of the Infernal Trio.

(Read about poor Maurice Utrillo in the following article: “The Infernal Trio: Maurice Utrillo, Montmartre’s Bottle“)