The Barnes Foundation opens the first exhibition dedicated to Suzanne Valadon at a major US arts institution

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The Barnes Foundation opens the first exhibition dedicated to Suzanne Valadon at a major US arts institution
Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel, 2021. The Barnes Foundation, installation view. Image © The Barnes Foundation. Photo by Daniel Jackson.

PHILLADELPHIA, PA.- This fall, the Barnes Foundation presents Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel, the first exhibition dedicated to the French artist and model Suzanne Valadon at a major US arts institution. The first self-taught woman to exhibit at the Salon de la Sociéte Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Valadon challenged behavioral codes with her art and lifestyle, breaking new ground with her unapologetic portraits and nudes. On view in the Barnes’s Roberts Gallery from September 26, 2021, through January 9, 2022, this exhibition considers Valadon’s rich contribution to the early 20th-century art world and features representative works from all stages of her career.

From a childhood marked by poverty and neglect to a career as a popular artist’s model, Suzanne Valadon (born Marie-Clementine Valadon, 1865–1938) defied the odds to become a successful painter. Passionate about art from an early age, she modeled in her teens for artists including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Edgar Degas encouraged her earliest artistic efforts, praising the use of line in her drawings and introducing her to printmaking techniques. Later, when she turned to painting, she exhibited her work regularly at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne. Valadon made a living from her art at a time when women faced countless obstacles to professional success, but despite these accomplishments, her work has received scant attention outside of France.

“Placing Suzanne Valadon’s work in dialogue with the late 19th- and early 20th-century French paintings in the Barnes collection—created primarily by her male counterparts—raises questions of representation and access throughout art history,” says Thom Collins, Neubauer Family Executive Director and President of the Barnes Foundation. “Through this exhibition, we aim to draw attention to the ways in which many artists of merit are unjustly neglected because of biases surrounding gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and class. We are proud to present the first major US exhibition dedicated to Valadon, a remarkable and underexplored artist, and bring renewed attention to her significant body of work.”

Curated by Nancy Ireson, Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions & Gund Family Chief Curator, the exhibition features approximately 55 works, including paintings, drawings, and prints created between 1890 and 1932. The exhibition is structured around a series of themes, including the artist’s representations of her family and her exploration of the female body. Refusing to follow artistic trends and continuously faithful to figurative representation, Valadon developed a distinctive pictorial language characterized by decisive lines and bold coloration.

Exhibition highlights include:

• Adam and Eve, 1909 (Centre Pompidou, Paris, Gift of the State, 1937): In the early stages of her passionate relationship with André Utter—a man more than 20 years her junior—Valadon made this self-portrait in which she depicts herself as Eve to Utter’s Adam. When the work was first exhibited, it did not include the fig leaves, which she added at a later stage.

• Self-Portrait, 1927 (Private collection, on deposit to the Musée Utrillo-Valadon, Sannois): Valadon painted frequent self-portraits and, as she aged, did not shy away from changes in her appearance. Here, as a middle-aged woman, she addresses the viewer unapologetically.

• The Blue Room, 1923 (Centre Pompidou – Musée National d’Art Modern/CCI, Paris, on deposit to Musée des Beaux-Arts de Limoges, Gift of the State, 1924): Seen by many as Valadon’s finest work, The Blue Room reinvented artistic traditions, with its sumptuously decorated interior that envelops a clothed, smoking woman.

• Family Portrait, 1912 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris, on display at the Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art modern/CCI, Gift to the Musées Nationaux by M. Cahen-Salvador in memory of Madame Fontenelle-Pomaret, 1976): Head of an unconventional household, Valadon paints herself at the center of her family: her young lover by her side, her elderly mother behind, and her melancholy son in the foreground.

• Black Venus, 1919 (Centre Pompidou, Paris, – Musée National d’Art Moderne/CCI, Paris, on deposit to Musée des Beaux-Arts de Menton, Gift of M. Charles Wakefield-Mori, 1939): In one of a series of works that feature an unidentified Black model, Valadon seems to challenge classical tradition, a subject that is discussed in detail in the exhibition catalogue.

“Little known in the United States, Suzanne Valadon produced works in the early 20th century that even now challenge viewers with their unapologetic exploration of female desire and the challenges of marriage and motherhood,” says Ireson. “Though Valadon’s portraits and nudes were groundbreaking, their reception was often overshadowed by reactions to her personal life. Her second marriage to a far younger man was met with disapproval, and her fame as an artist was eclipsed by that of her son, Maurice Utrillo. This exhibition and catalogue tell Valadon’s story through her art, shining new light on her important work and career.”

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