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Maurice Utrillo (French, 1883-1955)


Birth Place: Paris (Ville de Paris department, île-de-France, France)

Maurice Utrillo's Post-Impressionist art emerged from the bohemian milieu of Montmartre at the turn of the century. During the 1870s, when Napoleon III and his city planner, Baron Haussman, modernized Paris with grand boulevards and new buildings, many of the downtown inhabitants were pushed to the neighboring fringes, including Montmartre, a hill on the Right Bank. Outside of the city limits, Montmartre was not subject to expensive taxes and thus became a popular site for entertainment establishments and artists' residences. In 1883 when Utrillo was born in Montmartre, the famous cabarets Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir were already thriving there, memorialized in the paintings and posters of the local Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. In fact, Utrillo's mother, Suzanne Valadon, a painter and former circus acrobat, posed as a model for Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as for others who frequented Montmartre, including Camille Pissarro, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Immersed in the artistic culture of Montmartre, Suzanne Valadon encouraged her young son, Maurice, to paint as a form of therapy combating what would become his lifelong ailments, alcoholism and mental illness. Uninterested in documenting the active social life of Montmartre, Utrillo turned instead to its inanimate streets and houses. His subjects included famous Montmartre landmarks -- the restaurant Moulin de la Galette, the café Lapin Agile, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, composer Hector Berlioz's house, and the area's windmills -- as well as a veritable map of neighborhood streets -- Rue du Mont-Cenis, Rue Muller, Rue Custine, Rue Norvins, Rue Saint-Vincent, and so on. Utrillo depicted his streetscapes in different seasons, thereby recalling the Impressionist experiments of Pissarro or Claude Monet; yet he achieved even greater atmospheric effects with his subdued palette and heavy use of zinc white mixed with sand or plaster. In addition, these neighborhood vistas, with their enclosing walls, shuttered windows, receding roads, and minimal figures (usually shown walking away from the viewer), create a poetic, sometimes lonely mood.

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