UTRILLO Maurice
UTRILLO Maurice (born in 1883 in Montmartre). Utrillo is the illegitimate son of Suzanne Valadon, the travelling acrobat who became the favourite model of Degas and later a painter herself. His father, probably a man named Boissy, disappeared leaving his son no other legacy than a strong penchant for alcohol. In 1891, a Spanish artist, Miguel Uterillo, consented to make the child legitimate. A mediocre and lazy pupil, undisciplined and left to his own devices, the boy thought only of drinking in secret. Expelled from school, he entered a bank but was soon dismmissed. Then he was entrusted to the care of his grandmother, at Montmagny. Far from watching him the old woman let him rove about and get drunk. From this time date the now legendary episodes of Utrillo's life that Francis Carco his recorded in his book, the long drinking bouts followed by nervous crises, the wild nights, the days of stupor, internment at Sainte-Anne hospital, the vain admonitions of his mother, the baneful idleness, the first drawings and the first paintings executed under constraint, submitted to as a remedy; and then the establishment in Mont-martre, the relapse, the return of an ill-repressed passion. Utrillo had now finally resigned himself to the brush that his mother had put into his hand. Forced to paint, and to paint both without a master and without conviction, Utrillo produced works of surprising originality from the outset. At Montmagny, in Montmartre, in the suburbs of Paris, he executed, from 1902 to 1904, some hundred and fifty pictures, which had nothing in common with anything else that could be seen at the time. After a few months of groping, his palette, formerly thick, rough and rather dark, was transformed -- under what mysterious influence no one knows. A painter in spite of himself, he began to paint masterpieces. The boozer, the bad lot, the irresponsible man staggering from café to prison, from prison to asylum, from asylum to his desolate mother's; the wretch hooted at by crowds, hunted down by urchins, mauled by prowlers, beaten up by policemen, exploited by amateur art dealers and shopkeepers of Montmartre who hoarded his work; the poor defenceless devil who painted to quench his thirst for alcohol painted like one inspired, like a master. Ingenuously realistic, he used an amalgam of plaster, sand and glue to render the white of walls. With the minute thoroughness of a mason and the mysticism of a builder of cathedrals he lovingly shaped the dirty, naked façades of tumble-down Montmartre houses and expressed the desperate monotony of rectilinear suburban streets, the melancholy of courtyards and lanes, the rustic peace of small country squares. Gloomy suburbs, empty avenues, small peasant churches, everything in the world that is poor and banal, he transfigured instinctively, seeing it all through the eyes of a child. The humblest chapel became as majestic as a basilica. He needed only a few clouds strewn about a pale sky to convey a feeling of indescribable lightness. The least stone, soiled and cracked, became fascinating under his brush. During the six years of his 'White Period' ( 1908-1914) he sold for ridiculously low prices pictures that are treasured today in most museums of the world, masterpieces in which objects are invested with a magic splendour that they seem to lack entirely in the eyes of others.
Utrillo's nights of debauchery and drunkenness did not, apparently, prevent him from working regularly in the daytime, with lucidity and fervour. His production was not diminished by the frequency of his fits or by his various sojourns in hospitals and asylums. After numerous internments, notably at Sannois in 1912 and 1914, then again in 1919 and 1921, he finally underwent a very long seclusion in a nursing home at Ivry. Obsessed by alcohol, he was still able to develop coherent logical, carefully executed work, by no means morbid or unwholesome and, as a result of his evangelical sincerity, full of gentleness and freshness. With no masters other than nature and intuition, Utrillo painted with a knowledge of the craft that, although innate, was nevertheless subtle and profound. It is of little consequence, then, if he painted in his Montmarte studio almost exclusively from illustrated post cards as early as 1909. No theory, no academic discipline having blurred his vision, nature freely gave him his means. Utrillo is a constructor: his buildings are firmly set in the ground; his cathedrals rise boldly in the sky. He is an architect: his quays, streets, boulevards stretch out toward the horizon obeying an infallible perspective. He is a colourist: he has an exact notion of the relations between tones, values, atmosphere. His milky whites, singing greys, pale blues, tender greens, glowing reds, velvety blacks defy analysis. For the charming awkwardness of his first canvases he substituted by dint of work a faultless technique and an ease that did not stifle his blissful naïvité. Far from darkening and unbalancing his style, his successive internments seem on the contrary to have strengthened it and enlivened it. It was at the Sannois asylum, in 1912, that his 'white manner' became less gloomy, more sprightly and more sober ( The Moulin de la Galette, The Church of Saint-Aignan, The Water Tower of Sannois). It was after his seclusion in 1916 that his form became separated, his colour burst into flame, his realism was accentuated. But this was already the decline. Utrillio had nothing more to say. From then on he would survive himself to witness his own fame, to collect honours and enjoy the benefits of success. He had participated in the Salon d'Automne in 1909. His first one-man exhibition had taken place in 1913, and at that time he was already known and appreciated. He had admirers -- writers like Octave Mirbeau, Élie Faure, Francis Carco. Art dealers sold his works; collectors bought them. Diaghilev commissioned the settings and costumes of the ballet Barabau from him. In the same year he established himself with Suzanne Valadon and André. Utter in a villa that they had built in the Avenue Junot in Montmarte. In 1928 he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. In 1935 he married Mme Pauwels ( Lucie Valore). His exhibitions became more frequent. The price of his pictures went up, as did the number of his imitators. And he who had been strong in his weakness, who had possessed as his sole wealth his poverty and his innocence, he who had never been so great an artist as in the midst of debauchery, destitution and opprobrium, became the frail old man, clean and of regular habits, the good husband and good citizen, the timorous petit bourgeois, submissive, bigoted, the famous painter, valued, decorated, working no longer to create but to produce. As he settled into his case, his work dried up. Nevertheless the work he accomplished in a mere ten years will forever remain in oasis of peace for men, but an undecipherable enigma also. Utrillo can be situated mong those so-called naïve painters or popular painters of reality, right after Henri Rousseau and before all the others, those who have appeared in our century to keep alive a, protest of the heart and instinct (vide Primitives of Today).
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