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Suzanne Valadon was a quick learner and one tough biddy.

Her real name was Marie-Clementine Valadon until artist Edgar Degas, a good friend and mentor, convinced her to change it to Suzanne. That was probably the last time a man told her what to do. Born out of wedlock, her father was unknown and her mother a sewing maid, but that was not going to stop her success. After a short career as an acrobat, Valadon became a very popular model for many of the Impressionists. She was beautiful and free-wheeling, having affairs with many of the artists. She was Pierre Auguste Renoir’s favorite model, and you can see her in his painting Dance at Bougival.

While she was working as a model, she watched how the artists painted and took good notes. Coming from a poor family, she had no formal art training and learned everything she could from the artists she worked for. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was wildly in love with her and during their two-year affair he encouraged her growth as an artist. When their affair came to a stormy end, Toulouse-Lautrec did a portrait of Valadon called The Hangover in which she is slouched over a bottle of wine in a drunken stupor. Ouch.

Valadon gave birth to a son out of wedlock. Despite having emotional problems and alcoholism, Maurice Utrillo became a very successful artist after his mom taught him how to paint. Married to a wealthy banker for fifteen years, Valadon devoted herself full time to her painting. However, she gave up the security to run off with Andre Utter, her son’s friend who was twenty years younger than she. Her newfound love with this gorgeous hunk inspired several large nude paintings. Because of her unique vision and perseverance, the free spirited and spunky Valadon received financial and critical acclaim for her work during her lifetime.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Suzanne Valadon

Suzanne Valadon (23 September 1865 – 7 April 1938) was a French painter and artists' model who was born Marie-Clémentine Valadon at Bessines-sur-Gartempe, Haute-Vienne, France. In 1894, Valadon became the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. She was also the mother of painter Maurice Utrillo.

Valadon spent nearly 40 years of her life as an artist. The subjects of her drawings and paintings, such as Joy of Life (1911), included mostly female nudes, female portraits, still lifes, and landscapes. She never attended the academy and was never confined within a tradition.

As a model Valadon appeared in such paintings as Pierre-Auguste Renoir's 1883 Dance at Bougival and Dance in the City, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's 1885 portrait.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Suzanne Valadon