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In “The Abandoned Doll,” Suzanne Valadon portrays an intimate scene with a strong psychological mood. Seated on a bed, a fully clothed woman towels dry a girl. The girl, clad only in a pink hair ribbon, turns away from the woman and appears to inspect herself in a hand mirror. The pink bow echoes that in the hair of the doll, a symbol of childhood forgotten on the floor near the bed. This visual connection, combined with the girl’s maturing body, suggests that this is a moment of transition in her young life.

Though we know the figures portrayed here are Valadon’s niece and the girl’s mother, the artist refrains from identifying this as a portrait. In this way, the painting tells a more universal story of a girl’s journey from childhood to adolescence, which resonates with many viewers.

“The Abandoned Doll” exemplifies Valadon’s mature style: vivid colors, dark outlines, textile patterns, and simplified forms with awkward poses and distorted anatomy. She had no formal training; rather, she assimilated various artistic and intellectual concerns of the 19th and early 20th centuries from direct contact with artists, such as Edgar Degas, Puvis de Chavannes, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. However, Valadon’s style was highly personal, and her nudes typically are unidealized, active women, challenging the convention of the sexualized, passive female body.

Details

  • Title: The Abandoned Doll
  • Creator: Suzanne Valadon
  • Date: 1921/1921
  • selected exhibition history: “Suzanne Valadon,” Galerie Bernier, Paris, 1939; “Suzanne Valadon,” Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1932; “Suzanne Valadon,” Galerie le Centaure, Brussels, Belgium, 1931; “Suzanne Valadon,” Galerie Berthe Weill, Paris, 1927
  • artist profile: French painter Suzanne Valadon created powerful, unconventional, and sometimes controversial figure paintings, often of female nudes. Born Marie-Clémentine, Valadon was the daughter of an unmarried domestic worker. She grew up in Montmartre, the bohemian quarter of Paris, supporting herself from the age of ten with odd jobs: waitress, nanny, and circus performer. A fall from a trapeze led her in a new direction. From 1880 to 1893, Valadon modeled for several of the most important painters of her day, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Although she could not afford formal art classes, Valadon learned readily from the painters around her. Close friend and mentor Edgar Degas also taught her drawing and etching techniques. Valadon soon transitioned from an artist’s model into a successful artist. Valadon also had a complicated personal life. By 1909, she had given birth out of wedlock to Maurice Utrillo (who later became an artist), married, and divorced. That same year, Valadon, 44, started painting full time. A mere two years later, she attracted critical acclaim with her first solo exhibition. She rose to the peak of her fame in the 1920s and had four major exhibitions during her lifetime. Through her paintings and prints, Valadon transformed the genre of the female nude by providing an insightful expression of women’s experiences.
  • Physical Dimensions: w32 x h51 in (Without frame)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photography by Lee Stalsworth
  • External Link: National Museum of Women in the Arts
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts’ Exhibition: “Four Centuries of Women’s Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts,” 1990–91

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