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21st January 2022

'In this collective 1912 portrait of Suzanne Valadon, her mother, her son Utrillo and her lover Utter, she is the only one directly facing the viewer, but she does so tentatively, with her hand on her chest. You can almost hear her say: “Moi? I am innocent, Monsieur”. Utter and Madame Valadon are gazing to their right, each foreseeing a different future: the young man looks confident and rather content, while the woman – all wrinkled and slightly hunchbacked, with the corners of her mouth turned downwards – appears resigned. Maurice Utrillo’s depiction earns the most sympathy, for he seems to be the most miserable and out of place, gazing melancholically with his head leaning on his hand, as if he simply cannot muster the energy to stand or sit upright' (here).

20th January 2022

'Suzanne Valadon painted, one writer declared, “with an energy unheard of in a woman”. It’s hard to pin down what that gendered praise actually meant, since she eschewed the pink gauziness that some males (Renoir, say) slathered on the female body. There’s no sugariness to her nudes or marzipan in her flowers' (from the Financial Times again, here). This is The Blue Room 1923.

19th January 2022

'The Last Time I Saw Paris' we went to the most incredible museum in Montmartre, the house where the Valadon ménage lived. This was Suzanne's studio. It's a reconstruction but most beautifully done, more details here. IF any of us ever get to Paris again it's unmissable.

18th January 2022

Valadon was Utrillo's mother. This is a kind of unbelievable fact of art history (and of course for years, while Utrillo was being celebrated as a great Post-Impressionist painter, his mother was ignored). And their work was so different! Although they both painted French suburban life, they observed it from opposite directions. Here is Valadon's 1921 portrait of her son, it's in Paris at the 

musée Montmartre

17th January 2022

An exhibition has just finished in Philadelphia devoted to the amazing Suzanne Valadon (1865-1935) and the Post this week will continue the homage. Fascinatingly,, she began life as an artist's model and her years among painters inspired her to try her hand at painting. She was encouraged by Degas, set up in her own studio by a lover and 'began chronicling her newly suburban home life' (Ariella  Budick in the Financial Times). This is Self Portrait 1927.

14th January 2022

The slave trade was 'abolished' in 1807. But then occurred something as shocking as the fact of slavery itselfl: for the next 25 years the slave owners wrangled about compensation and it was not until 1833 that they agreed terms. These were vastly advantageous to them and to those who profited from slavery. The slaves themselves got nothing at all, nowhere to live, no jobs, no income, nothing. 'The British government paid out £20 million – the equivalent of around 17 billion pounds today – to compensate slave owners for the lost capital associated with freeing slaves. This payout was a massive 40% of the government's budget. These obligations to slave owners and institutions were not paid off by the UK government until 2015. 'Britain stood out among European states in its willingness to appease slave owners, and to burden future generations of its citizens with the responsibility of paying for it' here . There is a book by Michael Taylor called The Interest: How the British Establishment resisted the Abolition of Slavery. Cf. also this excellent New Yorker article by Sam Knight inspired by the horribleness of the two kneeling slaves at Dyrham Park near Bath, here. Let's hope these have been quietly removed.

13th January 2022

A trip to Liverpool is a must this year – to go to the International Slavery Museum. When you look at this engraving in detail it is particularly horrifying. And one's feelings only worsen when reading the piece here  in History Today from which this image was taken.

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