Summary and book reviews of Renoir's Dancer by Catherine Hewitt

Renoir's Dancer

The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon

by Catherine Hewitt

Renoir's Dancer by Catherine Hewitt X
Renoir's Dancer by Catherine Hewitt
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  • Published:
    Feb 2018, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rose Rankin
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Book Summary

Catherine Hewitt's richly told biography of Suzanne Valadon, the illegitimate daughter of a provincial linen maid who became famous as a model for the Impressionists and later as a painter in her own right.

In the 1880s, Suzanne Valadon was considered the Impressionists' most beautiful model. But behind her captivating façade lay a closely-guarded secret.

Suzanne was born into poverty in rural France, before her mother fled the provinces, taking her to Montmartre. There, as a teenager Suzanne began posing for - and having affairs with - some of the age's most renowned painters. Then Renoir caught her indulging in a passion she had been trying to conceal: the model was herself a talented artist.

Some found her vibrant still lifes and frank portraits as shocking as her bohemian lifestyle. At eighteen, she gave birth to an illegitimate child, future painter Maurice Utrillo. But her friends Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas could see her skill. Rebellious and opinionated, she refused to be confined by tradition or gender, and in 1894, her work was accepted to the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, an extraordinary achievement for a working-class woman with no formal art training.

Renoir's Dancer tells the remarkable tale of an ambitious, headstrong woman fighting to find a professional voice in a male-dominated world.

C H A P T E R 1
Life-cycles

Ne pura pu, bravo novio, rizio dounc!
Faras pa maû sechâ to grimaço, rizio dounc
(Do not cry, sweet young bride, laugh;
You would not be unwise to dry your eyes, laugh!)
Couplet from a traditional Limousin wedding song

When eighteen-year-old Madeleine Valadon awoke on 13 February 1849, she knew to expect a thick morning fog to have enveloped the town of Bessines, while the frosty air would sting and redden her bare hands once she stepped outside. It was a Tuesday; soon, the deserted place in the town centre would spring to life, as labourers, shopkeepers, artisans, seamstresses and laundresses hurried across the cobbles in all directions to take up their posts. The tap of wooden clogs on stone was a familiar sound as men in blue smocks made their way through the streets. White bonnets bobbed in time with female footsteps, subtle variations in each cap silently declaring its wearer's social standing and origin. The skirts and ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The change in women's place in the art world animates this book, with Valadon an unsung but key figure in that transformation. Hewitt summarizes: "Other artists showed what viewers wanted to see. Suzanne showed them what was true." By not conforming to male expectations of female-created art—a muted color palette, nurturing mothers, cheerful children—Valadon broke barriers for women to create and, crucially, to make a living from the art that expressed their intentions and feelings, not only what men wanted to see from them. Renoir's Dancer is a captivatingly detailed study of an artist who should be better known for her contributions to the art world, beyond just the pretty face painted by others.   (Reviewed by Rose Rankin).

Full Review (838 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The cast of world-class artists and the stories of their romantic entanglements combine to produce a book that reads like an opera libretto revolving around a pioneering spirit who bristled at the limiting label of 'woman artist.'

Booklist
Starred Review. Hewitt’s straight-ahead telling of Valadon’s dramatic, many-faceted story captures this artist of ‘honesty and passion,’ this ‘matriarch of creative rebellion,’ with precision, narrative drive, and low-key awe.

Library Journal
Starred Review. A fine selection of photographs and extensive notes superbly complement this absorbing, thoroughly researched book. A must for art lovers and scholars, it will also appeal to readers of serious historical biographies.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. A well-researched tribute to and resurrection of a master of fin de siècle art.

Reader Reviews

Monica

Renoir’s Dancer
This is my favorite kind of book. Nonfiction that reads like a novel and is packed full of information. While reading it I was constantly googling the artwork and the artists. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and learned so much. Definitely ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Belle Époque Paris: From Civil War to Artistic Profusion

The year 1789 was by no means the first time the city of Paris had experienced upheaval, but the Revolution and the decades following it were particularly tumultuous. The Terror, Napoleon, the brief restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, the Second Empire under Napoleon III: the political pendulum swung wildly and violently throughout the nineteenth century in the city along the Seine. The culmination of these events was the Paris Commune of 1871, which caused some of the worst destruction the city had ever experienced. This brief and bloody civil war, however, was followed by a remarkable period of artistic and cultural efflorescence, known as the Belle Époque.

In 1870, Emperor Napoleon III unilaterally declared war on Prussia, its ...

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