Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer
Maurice Utrillo (France, 1883–1955)
Oil on canvas
13 x 19 ½ in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000
Artist Maurice Utrillo is arguably as famous for his troubled life as his paintings. Born to painter Suzanne Valadon out of wedlock, Utrillo and his mother lived in the bohemian community of Montmarte, a district in Paris that drew artists and writers, in part, for its numerous cafés and cabarets such as the infamous Moulin Rouge. Utrillo developed a problem with alcohol by 1899 and, in 1903, he was encouraged to paint as a form of therapy for his addiction. He achieved some early notoriety for his street scenes of Paris produced with an expressive brushstroke and a bright palette, but it was his inclusion in the Salon d’Automne in 1909 and the Salon des Indépendants in 1912 that helped to secure his reputation as a member of the avant-garde. Throughout the 1910s and ‘20s, Utrillo struggled with alcoholism, and some of his most productive periods coincided with his confinement in asylums. He sold his paintings to pay his mounting medical bills.
While detained in an asylum, Utrillo looked to popular postcards of Paris for inspiration, but still life also provided easy subject matter. This image of carnations in a blue vase is undated but characteristic of the naïve approach found in Utrillo’s early work. A heavy contour bounds the forms, save for the blossoms, which Utrillo painted exuberantly. The painting conveys the appearance of spontaneity, as though Utrillo executed the painting based on an immediate emotional response.