Utrillo's Mother

Sarah Bayliss, Author Rutgers University Press $18.95 (246p) ISBN 978-0-8135-1431-4
British novelist Baylis has re-imagined the life and consciousness of the French post-impressionist artist Suzanne Valadon (1865?-1938), whose original name was Marie-Clementine. The story, which shuttles to and fro in time, skillfully delineates the stormy relationship between Clementine and her mother Madeleine, a slatternly cleaning woman, from whose example Clementine learns about female vulnerability. Moving from the countryside to Paris, Clementine joins the circus, becomes mistress to a clown and then to a succession of men, some of them painters. Eventually, she takes up a career as an artists' model while discovering her own talent and dedication to her art. Clementine's reflections about the ways women's bodies are viewed as pure or coarse, and about the depicted female nude as a form of male sexual prey, give the novel a decidedly feminist slant. Although Clementine fulminates against the male establishment, readers may be disappointed at the scantiness of material about Valadon's experiences with painters Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, and about her illegitimate son, Maurice Utrillo. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1989
Release date: 04/01/1989
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-449-90524-1
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