Born Marie-Clémentine Valadon at Bessines-sur-Gartempe, Haute-Vienne, France the daughter of an unmarried laundress, Suzanne Valadon became a circus acrobat at the age of 15 until a fall ended her career. In the Montmartre Quarter of Paris she pursued her interest in art.
A strikingly beautiful girl, she found work as an artists' model and used the opportunity to observe and learn the artists' techniques. She modeled for such greats as Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, all of whom would have an affair with her. She haunted the sleazy bars of Paris with the men and in 1889 Toulouse-Lautrec would paint a famous portrait of her titled: "The Hangover."
Degas was very impressed with her bold line drawings and fine paintings and encouraged her efforts. Eventually, she became such a good painter that, unlike many artists, she received acclaim and some financial success during her lifetime. Despite her achievements, she would nevertheless wind up living in the shadows of her artist son born in 1883 out of wedlock by a father whose identity she would never divulge. Named Maurice Valadon at birth, later on her son would take the family name of a close friend and as Maurice Utrillo, he would become one of Montmartre's most famous artists.
Suzanne Valadon painted still-lifes, floral art, and landscapes that were noted for their strong composition and vibrant colors. She was, however, best known for her female nudes. Her first exhibitions in the early 1890s consisted mainly of portraits, among them one of Erik Satie with whom she began an affair in 1893. A smitten Satie proposed marriage after their first intimate night. For Satie, she would be the only intimate relationship of his life, leaving him, he said, with "nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness." In 1894 she became the first woman to be admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. A perfectionist, Suzanne Valadon worked for thirteen years on her oil paintings before ever showing them.
A free spirit, she was known to wear a corsage of carrots, keep a goat in her studio to "eat up her bad drawings," and to feed caviar to her " good Catholic" cats on Fridays.
In 1896 her marriage to a stockbroker failed when, in 1909, the then 44-year old Suzanne left him for the 23-year-old painter, André Utter. She married Utter in 1914, but this marriage too did not last.
In 1998, a book by author June Rose titled: "Suzanne Valadon - Mistress of Montmartre" was published and another book by Elaine Todd Koren was published in 2001 titled: "Suzanne: of Love and Art."