Maurice Utrillo was born as Maurice Valadon in 1883 in the Montmartre quarter of Paris. He was the illegitimate son of Suzanne Valadon, who was an artist model and later a painter. His last name of Utrillo comes from Miguel Utrillo, a friend of his mother’s. Miguel agreed to adopt Maurice, so that the boy would appear to have a father. Maurice Utrillo earliest paintings done before 1910, were still signed Maurice Valadon. When he was 27 years of age, he finally began using the name Utrillo on his work.
School was difficult for Maurice Utrillo and as an adolescent, he became an alcoholic. Utrillo was known as a drunk from the age of thirteen. His mother encouraged him to take up painting as a form of therapy. Despite the many relapses Utrillo had with alcohol, painting became an obsession. His mother worked for many years as an artist model and posed for Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas. She studied their painting techniques and taught herself to paint. She passed on what she had learned to Maurice.
Although Utrillo had no real training, other than what his mother taught him, he drew inspiration from his surroundings and painted what he saw around the Montmartre. He created strange landscapes that appealed to all. His paintings inspired many artists’ styles in the way he re-evaluated reality in his work. His paintings up until 1907 were saturated with bright colors of yellow, red, turquoise and white. He was invited to participate in the 1912 Salon d’Automne and his work started to gain recognition. Also in 1912, he exhibited with his mother at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris and was offered a one year contract. From 1909 to 1914, Maurice Utrillo’s palette was confined to white and shades of gray. This period, also known as his white period, was his most highly regarded work. He used sand, plaster and lime in his paints to enhance the physical quality of walls and buildings in his cityscapes. These pieces brought Utrillo great fame and financial success.
By 1920, Maurice Utrillo had become internationally known and a legendary figure. Many critics viewed him as the century’s finest painter of urban scenes, particularly Paris. In 1928, he was made a member of the Legion of Honour. Despite his success, he continued to drink and had to be committed to several psychiatric institutions on various occasions.
Maurice Utrillo died on November 5, 1955. The first retrospective of his work was held at the 1943 Salon d’Automne. Recent paintings have sold for close to 1 million dollars. His works can be found in the museum collections of Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The Royal Collection in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York and many other collections.