Cover image for Suzanne Valadon : the mistress of Montmartre
Suzanne Valadon : the mistress of Montmartre
Rose, June, 1926-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Mistress of Montmartre
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Physical Description:
xvi, 284 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
General Note:
Previously published under title: Mistress of Montmartre. London : Richard Cohen Books, 1998.
Personal Subject:
Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
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ND553.V3 R66 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A portrait of the artists who created the Montemartre era of art history chronicles the unconventional life of Maurice Utrillo's mother, a fine artist in her own right, who was also the lover of Renoir, Erik Satie, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Valadon (1867^-1938) always appears in books about the heyday of Montmartre, when painters seemed to rule the world, but only as an appealing model with whom artists loved to dally, when, in fact, she was an independent and resourceful woman, and a superb and daring artist. Rose, author of a biography of Modigliani, takes palpable pleasure in revealing the full extent of her subject's acumen and artistic achievements. Alluringly androgynous, introspective, fearless, and "gripped by the need to express herself in pictures," Valadon was an adept and inquisitive model who caught the eye of such seminal artists as Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, and Degas. All were impressed not only by her beauty and spirit but also by her work, amazed at the strength and clarity of her line and the defiance of her vision. Rose chronicles each of Valadon's serious and complex relationships; covers the sad but intriguing story of her son, the infamous drunk and world-famous painter Maurice Utrillo; and, best of all, accords Valadon's art, which is generously displayed, the respect it deserves. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Montmartre was only a Parisian village when Marie-Clémentine Valadon, the illegitimate daughter of a laundress, moved there with her mother in 1870 at the age of five. By her mid-teens, Valadon was drawing "with instinctive and growing confidence," had performed in a local circus and was modeling for artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and lesser-known bohemians. At 18, now calling herself Suzanne, she gave birth to Maurice Utrillo, whose father she did not identify but whose name was derived from a Catalonian lover. Valadon's work as a model, Rose shows, culminated three years later when she served as a subject for Renoir's The Bathers. Shrewd and self-taught, Valadon moved from subject to sketcher and painter, producing portraits, still lifes, landscapes and earthy nudes that earned praise from Degas, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec and put her at the center of the area's artistic ferment and scandals. Married twice‘the second time to a painter more than 20 years her junior‘Valadon aged well and stayed at her easel and in public life even when her pictures had lost their clientele. Given a paucity of documentation, British biographer Rose (Modigliani) examines her subject's work chronologically and fills out Valadon's doings with vignettes of Montmartre and of the artists she accepted as patrons or took as lovers. But the drama here comes less from Valadon's love and work than from her wayward son, whose artistic genius eclipsed her modest talent but whose destructive drunkenness forced Valadon to put him away, between paintings, in country madhouses. Rose's biography, which carefully if unexceptionally takes us to Valadon's death in 1938 at 72, tells the story of Utrillo's as well as his mother's life. B&w and color photos. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Mysteries Suzanne Valadon's powerful paintings -- her portraits, still lifes, landscapes and especially her nudes -- suggest a forceful personality at work. The artist gloried in strong colours, dramatic contrasts and sensuous subjects; her untutored art sprang from personal instinct and inspiration. Although she lived through an extraordinary period of innovation in France, moving among Impressionists, Cubists, Fauves and Surrealists, and absorbed influences from her contemporaries, Suzanne Valadon remained original and fiercely independent in her work. Earthy, plebeian models were to her taste, and she painted them with passion and violence, tempered by acute observation. Through her vibrant paintings, and the drawings that so delighted Degas, Valadon learned to distil and discipline her own unruly temperament.     The mainspring of creation is always a mystery, but with Suzanne Valadon one can trace the overlap between art and life. In contrast to the bold contours that define her work, the outline of the artist's early years appears shadowy and blurred. Until she burst into the model market of Montmartre in 1880 at the age of fifteen as a beauty, she was of no particular interest to the art world, an illegitimate country girl growing up in Paris. No personal correspondence from her youth appears to have survived; at the time no one would have thought that her letters were worth keeping.     To this day it proves difficult to disentangle the bare facts of her early existence. The catalogue of the first major Valadon exhibition for thirty years, in 1996, contains two different accounts of her infancy. Yet the register of births at Bessines-sur-Gartempe, a small town twenty miles north of Limoges in central France, records the undisputed facts of her origins. In the year eighteen hundred and sixty-five, on the twenty-third of September at four o'clock in the evening, we, Pierre Paul Émile Dumonteil, Mayor acting as Registrar in the commune of Bessines, chief town of the canton, arrondissement of Bellac in the department of Haute-Vienne, received the visit of François Peignaud, blacksmith, aged thirty-eight, residing in the town of Bessines, who presented to us a child of the female sex, born that same day at six o'clock in the morning in the house of Madame Guimbaud, widow, to Madeleine Valadon, sewing maid, aged thirty-four, and to an unknown father ... and to whom he stated he wished to give the first name Marie-Clémentine. The foregoing declaration and presentation of the child were witnessed by the innkeeper, Clément Dony, aged forty-four, and another blacksmith, Armand Chazeaud, and were signed by all present. In her passport issued in 1931 when she was sixty-six, Marie-Clémentine has become Suzanne Valadon, a professional name assumed early in her career. The artist has also altered her year of birth from 1865 to 1867.     The inn in which she was born, the Auberge Guimbaud, still stands: a long, low, two-storey, shuttered granite villa, solid and unpretentious on the hill of Bessines-sur-Gartempe. In 1949 at a posthumous ceremony in her honour, a plaque was placed on the building and a street named after her.     When she was a small child, Marie-Clémentine's very existence was regarded as a disgrace, and the artist never returned to her native town. For a fatherless girl born to a sewing maid in the mid-nineteenth century the prospects were bleak. Fortunately relatives in the close-knit community in Bessines rallied to help mother and child. François Peignaud and Clément Dony, the men who had registered the baby's birth at the town hall, were Madeleine Valadon's second cousins. A more important source of assistance was her grandfather's cousin, a Madame Catherine le Cugy, known as the widow Guimbaud, who kept the local inn. The widow had employed Madeleine Valadon six years earlier, and when the baby was born she stood by her. Not that the arrangement was pure charity. Madeleine worked hard at the inn in charge of the laundry, washing, ironing and mending all the bed-, bath- and table-linen. Her duties were heavy: loading sheets, pillow-cases, bolster-cases, towels and tablecloths into huge tubs; pouring a boiling solution of wood cinders on to the soiled linen to cleanse it; carting the laundry to a nearby stream to rinse it; then sorting and mending when necessary.     In recognition both of her years of hard work and of her kinship, Madame Guimbaud helped Madeleine during her pregnancy. Her newborn baby was wrapped in diapers and swaddling clothes, according to local custom, and laid in the Guimbaud family cradle. As soon as she could, Madeleine went back to work. Little Marie-Clémentine was handed over to her grandmother, Marie Dony, who looked after the child for eighteen months. When the old lady died the infant was shunted off for three years to yet another of the clan, Madeleine's cousins who lived in the nearby village of Mas Barbu, her late husband's birthplace.     Madeleine Valadon, thirty-four at the time of her daughter's birth, had been extremely unlucky in her men. Born on 6 October 1830, she had been a respectable woman who at the age of eighteen had married Léger Coulaud, a blacksmith, mechanic and locksmith thirteen years her senior. The couple had two children, a son named after his father who died in infancy and a daughter, Marie-Alix, Valadon's half-sister, born in 1852 when her mother was twenty-two.     In the little town of Bessines, blacksmiths played an important part in local life. They not only repaired the shoes of the horses and the men, but also mended farm implements and machinery; some even helped with the maintenance of farm buildings. In this region of granite hills, chestnut trees and arid soil, the living was poor, and payment to Coulaud sometimes took the form of potatoes or the abundant chestnuts. Léger Coulaud, fired with the ambition to better himself and his family, struck up a friendship with an older, wealthier neighbour. Pierre-Louis Planchon was a watchmaker and jeweller, and for years the two men experimented in minting false coinage.     One evening in the autumn of 1856 they were supping together at an inn a few miles from Bessines after an outing to a local fair. Coulaud took out a forty-franc gold coin to pay their bill and asked for change. At that time forty francs was a large amount of money and the landlord's wife grew suspicious. After they had left the inn she informed the police, who arrested both men and searched their houses for evidence. In February 1857 Coulaud was tried and sentenced to hard labour for life, for what was considered an extremely serious offence.     The affair, of course, caused a great scandal in Bessines. The Limoges newspaper reported the trial in detail. The wretched Coulaud was tipped into a cart by armed guards and sent off to a penal colony in French Guyana, while his better-off partner was able to afford to appeal against the sentence.     Two years later in 1859 Léger Coulaud died in prison. Madeleine must have found the blame and condemnation of the neighbours and the sympathy of her husband's friends hard to bear. She was not yet thirty, with a six-year-old daughter to support; still `fetchingly pretty', she had a string of admirers among the locals and visitors to the inn. Despite warnings from the widow Guimbaud and her helper, the widow Betout, Madeleine fell pregnant.     To this day the identity of Marie-Clémentine's father remains unknown. Local people gossiped about a neighbour of hers, a Don Juan; some said a miller. In old age, according to one account, Madeleine admitted to having been `seduced on a very cold day in January' by a miller. When a millstone fell on her seducer and crushed him to death, Madeleine felt that he had received his just deserts! In another mood she might say that her lover was a construction engineer who fell from a bridge and was drowned in a swift river. The notion that after her husband's disgrace and death Madeleine went to work in an inn in a neighbouring village, Saint-Sulpice-Laurière, was current for years. Her lover was believed to have been an engineer from Paris, working on the new Paris-Toulouse line, completed in 1865, the year of the baby's birth. None of these stories can be verified but the local Bessines archivist is convinced that Madeleine was working at the Auberge Guimbaud until after the baby was born, and her version seems the most credible.     Marie-Clémentine never knew her father and grew up accustomed to regard women as the strong and dominant sex and men as weaker and less predictable. In her paintings years later her unconventional view of the role of the sexes is strikingly reflected.     Madeleine Coulaud showed her independence by reverting to her maiden name when her' husband died, but in the years immediately after Marie-Clémentine's birth she grew moody and depressed. Two men, her husband and her errant lover, had let her down badly and `she may have sought solace in drink'. In her later life she was certainly fond of the bottle.     In the mid-nineteenth century the Limousin countryside was deeply traditional; local customs revolved around the cycle of births, marriages and deaths. The plight of the disgraced widow, now with a child born out of wedlock, must have been chewed over endlessly in the long winter nights. Madeleine at least had the satisfaction of knowing that her tiny daughter, safe with relatives, was warm and well fed. Where her elder daughter, Marie-Alix, lived is not known; her name rarely crops up in accounts of Marie-Clémentine's childhood. Madeleine worked hard at the laundry and remained taciturn, yet she suffered from the boredom and the blame of the small community and the scoldings from the two older women who ran the inn. As Marie-Clémentine grew from babyhood to become the slight but sturdy little girl that her later development suggests, Madeleine began to dream of escape.     The new railway system offered the lower classes the freedom to travel far from the inhospitable Limousin countryside. Many artisans from the Limoges district -- bricklayers, stonemasons, carpenters -- had been tempted by the news of work in the expanding capital, and the exodus from the country was growing. When travellers came home to Bessines for Christmas or other family gatherings, they told stories of the wonders of Paris: the new broad streets lit by gaslight; the tall buildings; the pavement cafés; the variety of horse-drawn carriages and the elegantly dressed men and women.     Madeleine convinced herself she would make a better living in Paris. Through relatives she discovered that she had an aunt on the Ile Saint-Louis working as a milliner who agreed to take in her little family for a time. Then, with a courage which her daughter was to inherit, she left the safety of her home town, one day in 1869 or 1870, to travel the 250 miles to Paris. Madeleine herself was nearly forty when she made the journey; Marie-Alix was seventeen or eighteen and Marie-Clémentine was a child of four or five. The family did not stay long with Madeleine's aunt, Marie-Anne Valadon, and no further mention of this relative has been found. Madeleine decided to move to Montmartre, a move which was to transform Marie-Clémentine's life.     No doubt it was the cheap rents of the largely working-class district north of Paris that first attracted Madeleine; but in the mid-nineteenth century Montmartre still retained the air of a village. Although it was only half an hour's walk down to the grands boulevards , the air up on the hill was cleaner, and there were two windmills, gardens and stray farm animals. From the top of the hill, as yet uncluttered by the edifice of Sacré-Coeur, one could see the entire city below, yet still escape from the press of traffic in the streets, the crowds and the noise. Horse-drawn omnibuses did not venture up the steep slopes; cabbies had to be bribed with a generous tip to manoeuvre their vehicles up the cobbled streets. Few people were to be seen, there were no police about in the lanes, and the little shops selling groceries smelt of the country. The potent wine from the straggling vineyards was affordable too.     On the lower slopes at the foot of the hill, Montmartre had already acquired a reputation as the cheapest and most daring pleasure centre of Paris. Local toughs, working girls and domestic servants with an eye for opportunities roamed the streets and haunted the cafés and bistros. Standing in the shadows behind the rows of gas-lamps, the sinister figures of pimps and madames could be glimpsed watching the prostitutes as they paraded up and down.     Madeleine Valadon found cheap lodgings in one of the new tenement buildings in the Boulevard Rochechouart, one of the liveliest streets in the district. In contrast to the silent country lanes around Bessines, Madeleine now saw men and women strolling along the streets, peering into the open stalls and shops or visiting the cafés at all hours. The clatter of horse-drawn trams and carriages never seemed to stop. Two popular dance-halls with gaming-rooms, La Boule Noir and L'Élysée Montmartre, opened their doors at five o'clock in the evening. Visitors of all classes came there to amuse themselves, and the dancers performed quadrilles with great abandon. It was in the Boulevard Rochechouart, to the music of Orpheus in the Underworld , that the French cancan was born. Ironically the Boulevard Rochechouart was named in memory of a pious Mother Superior of the Benedictine convent at the top of the hill of the `Mount of Martyrs'.     The village of Montmartre, so intimately linked with Valadon's career as an artist, had an early history as uncertain and scandalous as her own. Before Christianity came to France the Druids of Gaul had celebrated their rites high on the hilltop. Later the Romans built temples to Mars and Mercury there. A certain Denis or Denys was sent as a missionary to convert Gaul to Christianity but was beheaded for his faith. Decapitated but unbowed, the martyr picked up his head and washed it, then walked on to the next village, Saint Denis, where he found a pious woman willing to bury him. A church was built on his burial ground and all the Kings of France are interred in the Abbey of Saint-Denis. Pilgrims visited the cave on the hill of Montmartre where the saint was executed. By the twelfth century a large abbey had been erected on the heights. A Benedictine order of nuns known as the Abbesses or Ladies of Montmartre presided over the life of the village. They owned the buildings and lands including the vineyards and the famous windmills on the ridge. On saints' days and at fairs, pilgrims flocked to the heights; soon the Ladies of Montmartre gained a reputation for levity. In the seventeenth century, soldiers billeted themselves on the abbey, with predictable consequences. Taverns, gaming-houses and brothels sprang up all over the holy hill, exploiting the past with their inn signs: `The Arms of the Abbess' and `The Image of Saint Anne'.     Later still, the gypsum quarries on the south side, which provided the plaster for Paris, gave shelter to drunks stumbling home and ruffians on the run from the police. Eventually crime of every kind including murder became commonplace, until ordinary citizens began to fear the place. The French Revolution ended the rule of the Abbesses and destroyed the abbey; by the middle of the nineteenth century Montmartre was respectable again, separated from Paris by a wall, and a toll had to be paid to enter the capital. This made wine cheaper in the village and encouraged the growth of working-class cafés and dancehalls.     Ten years before Madeleine and Marie-Clémentine Valadon arrived in Paris, however, Montmartre was annexed by the city and became the eighteenth arrondissement of Paris. But the village clung on to its independence. Painters, writers and musicians gravitated towards Montmartre, attracted by the sweeping views of the city below, the northern light, the legend, the ruins and an indefinable atmosphere of wit and gaiety. In 1843 the poet Alfred de Musset had written a short story set in Montmartre, `Mimi Pinson', and for the artists and writers who lived there his heroine became a symbol of romance. Mimi Pinson, like her namesake in La Bohème , lived in a garret, filled her window with flowers and gave her favours to her student friends, all for love. A house on the hill was named after her and Mimi Pinson's cottage was later painted by Maurice Utrillo. Writers and painters had begun to express in their work a new sympathy with the lower classes, dismissed in the past as comic and ignorant. In Montmartre the very air seemed freer, the men and women more independent; the possibility of social as well as sexual congress with the girls who worked long hours in milliners' shops, the laundresses and the maidservants, seemed exciting and unpredictable.     For the future Suzanne Valadon, the importance of a new attitude to women, the new realism in art and the beginnings of social mobility can hardly be exaggerated. Although she was poor and fatherless, she was in her rightful place in Montmartre. For her mother, however, the move to Paris had proved disappointing. With examples of the fine sewing for which she was renowned in Bessines, she had hoped to find work in the burgeoning fashion industry in the capital. The milliners' shops and the couture workshops understandably preferred to employ pretty young girls, whose presence was good for business. Madeleine did not know how to approach the affluent families that could afford work of the quality she produced. In desperation she took a job cleaning and scrubbing offices to support herself and her daughter. Often Marie-Clémentine was left with the concierge promising to keep an eye on her.     Many of the working people of Montmartre were newcomers too, evicted from their homes in central Paris by redevelopment. In 1856 Baron Eugène-Georges Haussmann had begun the process of ruthlessly modernising the medieval city, razing the winding alleys and narrow streets of the slums and tearing down ancient churches and chapels to create the grands boulevards of today. `Paris was slashed with sabre cuts and disappeared in a cloud of smoke,' wrote Émile Zola. Haussmann's reforms, designed to create an elegant city, improve health and root out crime, had dispossessed large numbers of the lower classes: 20,000 houses were demolished in the centre of Paris and 40,000 new houses built at an exorbitant cost. In the process of demolition tens of thousands of workers were evicted peremptorily from their lodgings. They could not afford to live in Haussmann's new multi-storey buildings where rents had doubled. Forced out of the heart of the city, the workers moved to the fringes of Paris, to live in slum buildings often as insalubrious as the dwellings that Haussmann had pulled down.     Montmartre, fortunately, was spared Baron Haussmann's attentions. The old houses with rambling gardens and outbuildings offered great possibilities to the artists, who converted the stables, barns and wooden sheds into studios with large windows. Now art students and young painters began to move from the Latin Quarter to look for lodgings in Montmartre. Up on the heights they felt geographically and spiritually removed from the Academy of Art and the deadening art establishment; unlike most villages, Montmartre had style and a shrewd cynicism. Certain cafés became known as artists' haunts where the talk was of painting, poetry, music. Art was all; the girls and hangers-on as well as the aspiring artists flaunted their disdain for conventional morals, manners and, particularly, the government's heavy-handed censorship of artistic expression.     In an age before cinema and television, Napoleon III and his ministers valued their painters and sculptors. After the inauguration of the Second Empire in 1852, leading artists were required by the court to glorify the emperor and raise the tone of public life by depicting scenes of great victories in battle or noble tales of Christian or classical origin. A painting was judged largely by its intellectual content, its edifying effect, and great emphasis was placed on the `perfect finish' of the work. Nudes shown in a suitably uplifting context, but as titillating as possible, were popular. At a time when the press was rigorously censored and writers exiled or subjected to petty prosecution, works of art were scrutinised for potentially subversive qualities. Through the person of the Director-General of Museums and Superintendent of Fine Arts, Count Emilien de Nieuwerkerke, the establishment exercised a covert censorship over artists' work. Count Nieuwerkerke was virtually an artistic dictator: he personally supervised the Académie des Beaux-Arts and also presided over the jury at the annual Salon, the huge official `art shop'. The young realist painters, more interested in reflecting the modern world than conforming to the jury's expectations, suffered rebuffs, while those who were willing to please, gifted artists among them, won gold medals and fat commissions to decorate palaces and public buildings.     By 1863 the despotic system had led to rebellion. Some 2,000 paintings and a thousand sculptures were rejected by the Salon that spring. Perturbed by the number of complaints he had received, the emperor decided to view the rejected work himself. After a visit to the Palais de l'Industrie -- built to show the world the glories of the Second Empire at the 1855 World Fair (Exposition Universelle), where the Salons had since been held -- he made a sensational announcement. The emperor decreed that artists refused by the Salon jury should be allotted seven spare rooms in the Palais de l'Industrie to show their works to the public; then the people could judge for themselves. Some of the most eminent painters of the nineteenth century accepted the imperial invitation. Paul Cézanne, Camille Pissarro, James McNeill Whistler and Édouard Manet, all rejects, exhibited their work at the Salon des Refuses. The exhibition attracted a record number of visitors intrigued by the publicity. Fashionable society, egged on by the press, came to mock, to state at the unusual works in horror and titter or hoot with laughter.     Manet's large painting, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe , drew the most fire; the emperor himself denounced it as `immodest'. The painter depicted four young people enjoying a picnic in the open air, the two girls naked, the men young dandies fully dressed. It was not the nudity but the realistic treatment that shocked the public. `Yes, there they are under the trees, the principal lady entirely undressed ... another female in a chemise coming out of a little stream that runs hard by and two Frenchmen in wide-awakes sitting on the very green grass with a stupid look of bliss. There are other pictures of the same class which lead to the inference that the nude, when painted by vulgar men, is inevitably indecent,' blustered P. G. Hamerton, the English critic from the Fine Arts Quarterly Review . Picasso greatly admired Manet's masterpiece, on which he based a painting of a (fully clad) family, The Soler Family (1903). In 1911, when she was forty-six, Suzanne Valadon painted an open-air scene, La Joie de vivre , which suggests that she too had studied Manet's work.     The courage that the revolutionary painters showed in defying both public and official opinion gradually undermined the standards of the official Salon and eased the way for independent artists in the future. A quarter of a century earlier a small group of half-starving painters, led by Théodore Rousseau and Jean François Millet, had made a stand against the Salon. They had lived on the edge of the forest of Fontainebleau in the small village of Barbizon and painted scenes of the forest and of peasant life, devoting themselves to a pure study of nature and ignoring the demand for landscape as a setting for grandiose tableaux from history or mythology. Year after year their work was refused by the Salon, pronounced decadent and subversive: `This is the painting of democrats,' Count Nieuwerkerke remarked haughtily, `of those who don't change their linen, who want to put themselves over on men of the world: this art displeases and disgusts me.' The poetic landscapes and studies of rural life were dismissed, their bearded authors feared and hated, suspected of being political revolutionaries as well as artistic rebels.     In the case of their contemporary, Gustave Courbet, the fears were justified. Courbet's grandfather had been an ardent revolutionary and his grandson was a socialist who produced powerful paintings of peasant life -- in the inn, the studio and the fields -- which were considered scandalous. With an unsentimental eye he painted poachers, nude models and boozy working girls. At the World Fair in 1855 the jury rejected some of his major works, so Courbet defiantly exhibited his own `ugly' paintings in a shed he paid for himself, close to the grandiose Palais de l'Industrie. His realism and his insistence on painting the truth as he saw it cleared the way for the vision of Suzanne Valadon. `I grew up among giants,' she was to say years later.     Marie-Clémentine had arrived in Paris in the closing phase of Napoleon III's flamboyant reign. The nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte was keen to reinstate France as a great power and to restore la gloire . In Valadon's world of the slums only innuendo and echoes filtered down from the last of the glittering masked balls in the Tuileries in 1869, where guests waltzed to the music of Johann Strauss and the emperor and his court paraded their bejewelled mistresses. Paris in the Second Empire was obsessed by pleasure; and thousands of prostitutes -- from the grandes horizontales , the spoilt darlings of the dandies, to the comediennes , who were semi-amateur, the lorettes , the grisettes and the cocodettes -- catered for every stratum of society. Those high-class gossips, the Goncourt brothers, wrote the inside story of the emperor's couplings: `Each new woman is taken to the Tuileries in a cab, undressed in an ante-room and taken naked into the room where the Emperor, likewise naked, is waiting for her by Bacciochi [presumably a courtier] who gives her this warning ... "You may kiss His Majesty anywhere except on the face."'     As well as having a vast sexual appetite and a taste for gorgeous spectacle, Napoleon III was ambitious to improve the condition of his people. He initiated schemes to establish workers' cities and had homes for injured workers and centres for maternal welfare built. In the early years of his rule the economy grew, industrial production doubled and foreign trade increased. Great banking concerns, such as Crédit Lyonnais, were established; and Bon Marché and other department stores were constructed. With prosperity, however, speculation raged and the wealthy new bourgeoisie benefited at the expense of the workers, whose wages remained depressed. As a result, relations between the classes became increasingly bitter. The poor of Montmartre and other working-class areas were constantly in debt. Many survived only by frequent visits to the pawnshop, where family mattresses were regularly pledged to stave off hunger.     By the end of Napoleon's reign, world economic conditions had deteriorated and the emperor's quest for la gloire had failed. A series of costly foreign adventures had all ended in disaster. By 1870 the ageing and ailing emperor, who suffered from a large stone in his bladder, was out of luck and out of favour. In latter years he had tried to placate the intellectuals and the working class by reforming the laws on press censorship and allowing the workers the right to assembly. It was all too late. The press attacked him mercilessly and the republican clubs that sprang up plotted sedition. The people wanted their liberty and their republic.     Napoleon, envious and alarmed at Prussia's growing power under Bismarck, was dismayed when Prussia advanced a minor German prince as candidate to the vacant Spanish throne. Although the claimant backed down, Napoleon rashly demanded further guarantees for the future. Public opinion on both sides was inflamed and Napoleon declared war precipitately, with an army that was unprepared and undermanned. The French welcomed the conflict with their old enemy in a ferment of patriotism. Crowds waved flags and cheered in the streets. But the Prussian army, well organised, highly trained and equipped with modern weaponry, was soon routing the French. Throughout the summer German artillery continued to pound the French army and thousands of Frenchmen in brilliant uniforms, bright-red trousers and plumed shakos, were slaughtered on the battlefields. Six weeks after war was declared came the devastating news that the Prussians had broken the French line at Sedan and the emperor himself, taken prisoner, had surrendered to the Prussians.     The fury and humiliation of the French people turned on the regime and republicans thronged the streets in protest. Two days later the Third Republic was proclaimed, charged with the impossible task of winning a war that was already lost. In Montmartre the people greeted the new regime with scenes of wild enthusiasm. At last, the workers believed, they would regain their liberty and their revolutionary ideals.     At the time of these great events a mystery surrounds Marie-Clémentine's whereabouts. The first book written about her during her lifetime and approved by Valadon includes a mention of a brief stay in Nantes when she was a child. Early in 1870 her half-sister Marie-Alix had married a well-to-do market gardener and moved out of Paris to the coastal town in western France. According to her niece's account, Marie-Clémentine visited Nantes `about 1870' and stayed there for some years. Since the niece, Marie-Lucienne (later Marie Coca), had not been born when her aunt came to Nantes and told the story sixty years later, she cannot be relied upon completely. On the other hand, Valadon herself was selective in her regard for the truth. With the outbreak of war in July 1870, it would seem natural for Madeleine to have asked Marie-Alix to give shelter to her younger sister from the dangers of Paris. By the age of four, Marie-Clémentine had learned to run about the streets by herself, but she was devoted to her mother, and the parting from her, the third in her short life, must have been painful. As for Marie-Alix's husband, Georges Merlet, he can hardly have been delighted to welcome a small bastard into his new home. Illegitimacy was regarded as an appalling stigma in those days, and, as if to confirm the prejudice against her, Marie-Clémentine behaved badly. She was, she confessed herself, a wilful child, and she probably offended the citizens of Nantes with her tomboy ways. She preferred boys to girls, ran about barefoot and revelled in dirt. `Water is for washing pigs,' she bawled. Marie Coca, who was fond of her aunt, concluded that Valadon must have been a dreadful little girl, `épouvantable', and that it was probably Georges Merlet, a short-tempered man, who decided to pack her off back to her mother in Paris. For a child to be rejected so young, particularly a child as acutely aware as Marie-Clémentine, it must have been distressing. Instead of crushing her, though, it made her more defiant than ever.     Marie-Clémentine was almost certainly still in Nantes when the siege of Paris began in September 1870. Madeleine, however, suffered with her neighbours in Montmartre, existing on bread, potatoes and coffee as prices rose and food grew scarcer. The winter was severe and by then even the upper class dined out on horse and donkey. Around Christmas the public's favourite animals from the Zoo, Castor and Pollux, two young elephants, turned up as carcasses at Roos, the English butcher in the Boulevard Haussmann.     The defeated French signed an armistice in January 1871. In the capital the news was greeted with a mixture of anger, shame and relief. Traces of war remained everywhere: shops kept their shutters up for most of the day; food was still very scarce; and in Valadon's own street, the Boulevard Rochechouart, the dance-hall, L'Élysée Montmartre, remained silent. During the war L'Élysée had been converted into a factory for manufacturing balloons, the only means of escaping from the embattled city -- used to spectacular effect when the left-wing Minister of the Interior, Léon Gambetta, sailed out of Paris on 7 October 1870, to rally the masses in the provinces. A `balloon post' kept communications open during the war.     The avant-garde artists of Montmartre, colleagues who met regularly at the Café Guerbois, had responded in different ways to the war. Auguste Renoir, who had been trained to paint on porcelain, was sent to Bordeaux with his regiment and later to the Pyrenees, where he found himself training horses. Claude Monet, who had married in June, left his wife and child in Le Havre and sailed to England in a desperate attempt to earn money by selling some paintings. Camille Pissarro took refuge with his half-sister in London. Paul Cézanne went to live with his mistress, Hortense Fiquet, at L'Estaque on the Mediterranean, hiding the liaison from his father and avoiding the patriotic fervour of his home town of Aix-en-Provence. The two upper-class members of the group of realist painters, Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet, both gained commissions in the National Guard because of their social standing. Degas enlisted in the infantry but was transferred to the artillery because of poor sight in his right eye. The painter Berthe Morisot, who married Manet's brother three years later, quipped that Manet, always the dandy, `spent the siege changing uniforms'. After the surrender Manet went to join his family, whom he had sent for safety to the south of France, while Degas remained in Paris until March, `the same as ever, a little crazy, but charming and witty'.     For the artists who had rallied during the war, the conflict was over; but in the left-wing battalions of the National Guard the mood remained defiant. After the armistice in January, National Guardsmen swept down on central Paris to capture `their' guns before the enemy could confiscate them. The people felt they owned the weaponry, since many guns had been bought by national subscription. A large delegation from Montmartre hauled some 200 guns heroically up the narrow lanes to the heights of Montmartre and parked them beside an old windmill used as a dance-hall, the Moulin de la Galette, with sentries posted beside them.     On 1 March 1871 German troops goose-stepped through Paris in a triumphal victory parade. Shops remained closed in the sullen, silent city, their windows draped in black `in mourning for Paris; the sense of humiliation was profound. Afterwards, Parisians set to purging the streets of the enemy presence, scrubbing them clean and lighting bonfires.     The situation was explosive. Adolphe Thiers, the chief executive of the new republic, ordered the regular army to retrieve the guns from Montmartre by stealth. At four in the morning of 18 March two brigades of soldiers marched silently through the Boulevard de Clichy and Boulevard Rochechouart. Some stayed to guard the streets, others marched up to the hill, overpowered the sentries and commandeered the guns. In an hour it was all over. But there was one drawback: the army had forgotten to order the teams of horses needed to tow away their booty. By dawn a woman soldier of the National Guard, schoolteacher, revolutionary and poet, Louise Michel, managed to escape. She rushed down the hill, her gun slung on her shoulder, shouting `Treason!' The Montmartre Vigilance Committee beat the drums to rouse supporters and before long the streets were impassable, thronged with National Guards and women and children. The women of Montmartre were furious and voluble. `If they had only let us guard the guns,' said one woman, `they would not have been captured so easily.' The women offered the soldiers of the line bread and wine as they remonstrated with them. `Where are you going to take the cannons? Berlin?' they taunted. Many of the regular soldiers defected and refused to fire on the workers of Montmartre. The streets were blocked all day and the mob captured and killed two generals in the mêlée.     The government retreated hastily to Versailles and the capital defiantly held its own elections. On 26 March the Commune of Paris was proclaimed, empowered to govern the capital on a municipal basis.     The Communards' plans for reforming and improving the lot of the workers were wide-ranging and ambitious. The role of the women who had backed the Commune so passionately was acknowledged and an all-female commission on education for girls was set up at a time when only one child in three enjoyed the benefit of any formal education. The forward-looking Communards also discussed nursery education for the children of women factory hands. But before the new Commune, hampered by internal division, could implement a programme of social reform and organise an efficient armed force, the national government in Versailles was planning its destruction.     Within a month the regular army was attacking the National Guard and inflicting defeats. The Montmartrois had a fierce sense of loyalty to their quarter and defended it with passion. `We were a little more alive then,' wrote Louise Michel, `with the joy of feeling in our element in the midst of an intense struggle for freedom.' On 21 May army troops marched on Paris, taking both sides of the river and advancing on the Hôtel de Ville, the Commune's headquarters. The National Guard fought them from one cobblestone barricade to the next, in desperate, if ill-organised, resistance. Urged on by hysterical crowds, the rebels shot down monks and policemen and set alight the symbols of Napoleon III's power -- the Tuileries Palace, the Palais-Royal, the Royal Mint and the Hôtel de Ville. The Luxembourg and the Louvre were badly damaged. The regular army shot men, women and children in wholesale slaughter. In the course of that `bloody week' some 20,000 Communards were killed, while the regular army lost a thousand men.     The Commune lasted only two months, but the spirit of revolt, and the legends and memories of the heroism and the terror, lingered for years. More than ever Montmartre became the symbol of freedom and revolution in France and beyond. The interlude had a profound effect on the people of the village. Whether or not Marie-Clémentine was there at the time, she heard stories of the bloodshed and the glory all through her childhood. They fed into the craving for drama and excitement in her temperament and she never lost the fiery spirit of rebellion. A century later Valadon was described by a Swedish writer as `the last fighter of Montmartre'.     After the war the gulf between the artists of Montmartre and the bourgeoisie grew wider. Gustave Courbet, the dedicated revolutionary, had been the most active of the artists. During the Commune he had been elected as representative of the people and appointed president of a General Assembly of Artists. He abolished the Académie des Beaux-Arts and the system of awarding medals and commissions at the Salon. The Vendôme Column with its statue of Napoleon I on top was regarded by the Communards as an intolerable reminder of Bonapartism and militarism and in May the column was toppled and destroyed, to the cheers of the crowd. When the Commune was defeated, Courbet, in his early fifties, was arrested and charged with complicity in the destruction of monuments. He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment and ordered to pay 250,000 francs towards the reconstruction of the Vendôme Column. To escape the crippling fine, Courbet fled to Switzerland, where he died in 1877. The official artists now reinstated remained profoundly suspicious of artistic rebels, and their prejudice against the anti-Bonapartist Courbet extended to the Impressionists.     The war had interrupted the café life of Montmartre, but by the close of 1871 all the progressive artists of Montmartre had begun to meet again at the Café Guerbois, No. 11 Rue des Batignolles, a haunt of theirs since 1866. The Boulevard Rochechouart abutted the Rue des Batignolles (now the Boulevard Clichy), and as a small girl buzzing around the streets Marie-Clémentine Valadon must have peered through the café windows at the bearded men in frock-coats talking and gesticulating over mugs of coffee or beer. The group later to be tagged the `Impressionists' met there every Thursday evening. Manet, who came from a wealthy family, had tables near the front door permanently reserved for himself and his friends. The Empire-style café, all white and gold with red banquettes and gilt gas-lamps, served as an informal club for those united in their disgust with the fashionable and stereotyped art of the Salon and determined, as Manet put it, `to be themselves'. The artists who straggled in when the light had gone were neither very young nor obviously bohemian -- all men in their late twenties or thirties. `All these people are salauds ,' Paul Cézanne grumbled. `They are as well dressed as notaries.' Among the group that included Degas, Manet, Monet, Pissarro and Renoir, Cézanne alone refused to conform to bourgeois dress. He was only in Paris for half the year and he came in looking deliberately unkempt, with a battered black hat, a long coat buttoned to his boots and baggy trousers. Cézanne, who was a boyhood friend of another regular, Émile Zola, would sit in a corner listening suspiciously and saying little. If he disagreed with the opinions expressed he would get up abruptly and leave. Cézanne reserved his particular scorn for Manet, who always appeared impeccably dressed with silver-topped cane, doeskin gloves and a silk topper. On one occasion, after shaking hands all round, Cézanne refused to offer his hand to the man-about-town: `I haven't washed for a week, Monsieur Manet,' he growled, `so I am not going to offer you my hand!' There were inevitably more profound disagreements among men with such disparate backgrounds and pictorial styles. Nevertheless the painters and those writers who championed their cause in the press found the meetings at the Café Guerbois stimulating and encouraging.     The group gave vent to their feelings at the success and high prices gained by academic painters but they also discussed their methods (which were disliked almost as much as their subjects), the new colours made from synthetic pigments and the availability of ready-made paints in tubes which made it so much easier to paint out of doors and to work with a wider range of colours. Now they could apply the paint directly on to their palette or canvas, rather than grinding the pigments into powder and mixing them in a medium before the paint could be used. They discussed the difficulties of painting shadows and light. The main topic, however, was the argument over painting en plein air , out of doors. These serious and differing artists were united in one respect: despite every discouragement they intended to represent the modern, everyday world as they perceived it. Their interest was in painting barmaids and boating parties, railway stations and inns, rather than grandiose scenes of dead emperors or Greek nymphs bathing in a grove. Since they needed the chance to show the public their canvases and to sell their work, they also argued about the best way of breaking into the Salon.     All of them, with the exception of Cézanne, had had at least one painting accepted. Some of the group favoured sending in their tamest work to please the jury. Not Cézanne. He advocated sending in the most `offensive' work to the Salon and his paintings were never accepted by the official body.     In December 1873, when Marie-Clémentine had turned eight, Claude Monet proposed that the friends who met at the Guerbois show their paintings in a special group exhibition. Degas, more canny, insisted that some painters who were admired by the Salon should be included so that the exhibition was not considered too radical. Ironically Édouard Manet had scored a great success at the Salon with his painting of the engraver Bellot drinking a `Bon Bock' at the Café Guerbois. He felt that his colleagues had deserted him and refused to join in the rebels' plans. In December 1873 a joint-stock company was formed, with Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and Berthe Morisot among its founder members. Propriety did not permit Berthe Morisot, a gifted open-air painter, to sit with the men in the café. In terms of official acceptance she was the most successful among them, her work having already been exhibited nine times at the Salon. Courageously she agreed not to submit any work to the Salon of 1874 in spite of Manet, soon to be her brother-in-law.     The modern painters deliberately chose to open in April two weeks before the official Salon. Among the exhibitors were Cézanne, Degas, Renoir, Monet and Morisot. Their glorious landscapes, so familiar today, met with a downpour of derision. Faced with the new techniques and colours, the critics ridiculed what they termed `absurd daubs'. `Messieurs Monet and Pissaro and Mlle Morisot etc. appear to have declared war on beauty,' one well-known critic remarked. Another declared that the artists must have loaded a pistol with various hues of paint, fired it at a canvas and then signed their work. The critics rivalled each other in their sarcasm. Louis Leroy from the Charivari spoofed the show by pretending to report the comments of an academic painter confronted by Monet's masterpiece Impression: Sunrise . `Impression -- I was sure of it,' he mocked. `I was just thinking that since I was impressed there had to be some impression in it ... and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper still in a rudimentary state is more finished than that seascape.' Ironically, the painters were labelled `Impressionists' after Leroy's sarcastic review. Most of the group, particularly Degas, disliked the description. From the standpoint of its reception, this first exhibition of `the Impressionists' was a disaster. The critics sneered at the paintings, the public ignored them and sales were depressingly small.     Marie-Clémentine was too young to have visited the exhibition, but in writing about her development as an artist she confessed that it was 'the palette of the Impressionists that enchanted me'. By the time the Impressionists first grouped together she was already gripped by the need to express herself in pictures. While the Impressionists were painting under umbrellas in the open air, Valadon was scribbling on walls, on scraps of paper, anything she could scrounge. She coaxed a coalman to give her broken pieces of charcoal and drew boldly on the pavement of the Place de Vintimille. When she showed her mother her handiwork -- and she was always trying to win her mother's praise -- Madeleine was appalled and scolded her for not getting on with her needlework. As a child she sensed that she was special, although she had no idea what her future might be; `she was certain that when she was grown up she would be one of the rare ones -- one of those whose lives were apart from the masses', and that is how she seemed at any rate in the memory of neighbours. To gain attention and sympathy she took to attending funerals in the Montmartre cemeteries, according to one account. Her performance achieved unexpected rewards when `at Pere Lachaise a bereaved young widow comforted her and gave her some money, all in the belief that the child was one of her dear departed's little mistakes.'     Although she was immensely appealing with an oval face, dark-blue eyes and cognac-coloured hair that would darken as she grew older, Marie-Clémentine was too much of a tomboy to bother about her appearance. What she liked to boast about, even as an adult, was her agility and physical fitness. She would climb on walls and fences, shouting: `I am a monkey, I am a cat.' One day she alarmed the neighbours by clinging to a french window, six storeys high, yelling to the terrified onlookers to stop shouting at her because the fire brigade was on its way. In another episode she captured a runaway cart-horse on the Place Blanche, soothing and stroking the animal while everyone else scattered for cover. Her friends were few, and unusual. `I had one friend of seventy-eight who knew seven languages,' Valadon wrote in her `confessions'. `I had a good school -- solitude.'     Madeleine sent her to a convent in the Rue Caulaincourt, hoping the nuns would teach her manners as well as the rudiments of education. The emphasis was on religious teaching, which for Marie was a singular failure, and the memory of school kept her away from church all her life. She had no patience to sit still, darting off at every opportunity to revel in the freedom of the streets. Pupils were taught to memorise long texts of approved authors; fortunately, she loved poetry and could recite the fables of La Fontaine into old age. The figure of François Villon, the outlaw poet, gripped her imagination and she paced the cobbled streets with long masculine strides, often in bare feet, hands clasped behind her back.     The only times she could keep still and concentrate were when she was drawing. On Sundays she would lie on her stomach all day long on the roof of the tenement building in the Boulevard Rochechouart, staring down at the people, who looked like moving ants, and watching the sky and the clouds and the colours. At night she would climb into her bunk and sketch arms and legs in chalk. `How did I do it?' she wrote when she was a well-known artist. `Today I couldn't even draw a sugar bowl from memory.' For Marie-Clémentine her chalk or pencil was her means of communicating her feelings, her impressions, her reactions to a cruel and exciting world. She did not think of her scribbling as art nor long to be an artist. She was a wild little girl, with an extraordinary sensibility. According to one story, however, one day when she was seven or eight she stopped to watch Renoir at his easel in the Rue Lepic and solemnly advised him to keep on with his painting and not be discouraged, because she was sure that he had a future.     Unconsciously, Marie-Clémentine was absorbing her first lessons in art. As she grew up, the village on the heights was losing its innocence, the refuge for unknown artists was becoming the haunt of pleasure-seekers from all over Paris. For an unprotected girl, already showing signs of a disturbing beauty, the milieu of the anarchic artists and the artistic cabarets, the bars and dance-halls where criminals and bohemian drifters gathered, was full of promise and a hint of danger.