Renoir’s Dancer: The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon

Written by Catherine Hewitt
Review by Janice Derr

In the late 19th century, Suzanne Valadon was a muse and model for some of Paris’ most highly acclaimed artists. She quickly gained a reputation for being an outstanding model, known for her expressiveness, and was a favorite of Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. What they didn’t realize was she was observing their every move and absorbing what she learned to improve her own art.

The illegitimate daughter of a laundress, Valadon was a self-taught artist. She became a model to support herself, her mother, and her son, the painter Maurice Utrillo. Through her working relationships, friendships, and sometimes romances with artists, she was introduced to Degas. Greatly impressed by her raw talent, he encouraged her to give up modeling and pursue art full time. She would go on to have her work accepted in the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and become known for her unflinching portraits and nudes.

Hewitt’s Paris sparkles with life and energy. The rich layering of details along with the eccentric cast of characters reads like a highly engrossing novel. Suzanne Valadon’s life is so remarkable and her personality so large, she rivals fiction’s most vivacious heroines. Well-researched and highly entertaining.