This month, Utrillo, Urban Solitude opens at Galerie Alexis Pentcheff in Marseille. The show (September 22-November 4) features 39 works, all from private collections, and presents the artist as a leading figure of the École de Paris.
His works focus on the streets of Montmartre where he was born to Suzanne Valadon, a model and artist, making him one of the few well-known painters to have started life in the famed Parisian art quarter.
A chronic alcoholic, Utrillo also struggled to maintain his mental health. He frequented nearby cabarets and brothels, where some of his earliest exhibitions took place.
Though the scenes of his native city are tinged with nostalgia, focusing on the quarter’s old, picturesque buildings, they are also bleak (in some instances he is compared to LS Lowry who would treat the cities of his childhood in a similar way). Utrillo’s sparsely populated streets are often shown under lowering, grey skies and in cold, wintry tones. The same views appear throughout his body of work, constantly reworked.
In 1922 the dealer Paul Guillaume exhibited 35 of his works, helping to establish the painter in the canon of French modern art where he remains.
In 2010, his works were featured in at least two retrospective exhibitions and in October of that year 30 of his works went under the hammer at Artcurial. Many of his top prices at auction, which are in the low- to mid-six figures, have been made since then.