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The Barnes Foundation Presents “Suzanna Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel

September 2, 2021 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm UTC+0

September 26, 2021–January 9, 2022

Philadelphia, PA, June 1, 2021—This fall, the Barnes Foundation will present Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel, the first exhibition dedicated to the French artist and model Suzanne Valadon at a major US arts institution. The first self-taught woman to exhibit at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Valadon challenged behavioral codes with her art and lifestyle, breaking new ground with her unapologetic portraits and nudes. On view in the Barnes’s Roberts Gallery from September 26, 2021, through January 9, 2022, this exhibition considers Valadon’s rich contribution to the early 20th-century art world and features representative works from all stages of her career.

Major support for Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Additional support is provided by Comcast NBCUniversal, Denise Littlefield Sobel, and John Alchin and Hal Marryatt.

From a childhood marked by poverty and neglect to a career as a popular artist’s model, Suzanne Valadon (born Marie-Clémentine Valadon, 1865–1938) defied the odds to become a successful painter. Passionate about art from an early age, she modeled in her teens for artists including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Edgar Degas encouraged her earliest artistic efforts, praising the use of line in her drawings and introducing her to printmaking techniques. Later, when she turned to painting, she exhibited her work regularly at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne. Valadon made a living from her art at a time when women faced countless obstacles to professional success, but despite these accomplishments, her work has received scant attention outside of France.

“Placing Suzanne Valadon’s work in dialogue with the late 19th- and early 20th-century French paintings in the Barnes collection—created primarily by her male counterparts—raises questions of representation and access throughout art history,” says Thom Collins, Neubauer Family Executive Director and President of the Barnes Foundation. “Through this exhibition, we aim to draw attention to the ways in which many artists of merit are unjustly neglected because of biases surrounding gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and class. We are proud to present the first major US exhibition dedicated to Valadon, a remarkable and underexplored artist, and bring renewed attention to her significant body of work.”

Curated by Nancy Ireson, Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions & Gund Family Chief Curator, the exhibition features 54 works, including paintings, drawings, and prints created between 1890 and 1937. The exhibition is structured around a series of themes, including the artist’s representations of her family and her exploration of the female body. Refusing to follow artistic trends and continuously faithful to figurative representation, Valadon developed a distinctive pictorial language characterized by decisive lines and bold coloration.

Exhibition highlights include:

  • Adam and Eve, 1909 (Centre Pompidou–Musée National d’Art Moderne/CCI, Paris, Gift of the State, Purchase, 1937): In the early stages of her passionate relationship with André Utter—a man more than 20 years her junior—Valadon made this self-portrait in which she depicts herself as Eve to Utter’s Adam. When the work was first exhibited, it did not include the fig leaves, which she added at a later stage.
  • Self-Portrait, 1927 (Collection of the City of Sannois, Val d’Oise, France, on temporary loan to the Musée de Montmartre, Paris)Valadon painted frequent self-portraits and, as she aged, did not shy away from changes in her appearance. Here, as a middle-aged woman, she addresses the viewer unapologetically.
  • The Blue Room, 1923 (Centre Pompidou–Musée National d’Art Moderne/CCI, Paris, on deposit to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Limoges, State Purchase, 1924): Seen by many as Valadon’s finest work, The Blue Room reinvented artistic traditions, with its sumptuously decorated interior that envelops a clothed, smoking woman.
  • Family Portrait, 1912 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris, on deposit to the Centre Pompidou–Musée National d’Art Moderne/CCI, gift to the Musées Nationaux by M. Cahen-Salvador in memory of Madame Fontenelle-Pomaret, 1976): Head of an unconventional household, Valadon paints herself at the center of her family: her young lover by her side, her elderly mother behind, and her melancholy son in the foreground.
  • Black Venus, 1919 (Centre Pompidou–Musée National d’Art Moderne/CCI, Paris, on deposit to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Menton, Gift of M. Charles Wakefield-Mori, 1939): In one of a series of works that feature an unidentified Black model, Valadon seems to challenge classical tradition, a subject that is discussed in detail in the exhibition catalogue.

“Little known in the United States, Suzanne Valadon produced works in the early 20th century that even now challenge viewers with their unapologetic exploration of female desire and the challenges of marriage and motherhood,” says Ireson. “Though Valadon’s portraits and nudes were groundbreaking, their reception was often overshadowed by reactions to her personal life. Her second marriage to a far younger man was met with disapproval, and her fame as an artist was eclipsed by that of her son, Maurice Utrillo. This exhibition and catalogue tell Valadon’s story through her art, shining new light on her important work and career.”


Public Programs:

Curatorial Talk
Sunday, September 26, 2021, 11:30 am
A talk by curator Nancy Ireson about the exhibition.

First Friday!
Friday, October 1, 2021, 6–9 pm
First Friday! at the Barnes takes place on the first Friday of each month, and programming in October will include a performance by the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra.

PECO Free First Sunday Family Day
Sunday, October 3, 2021, 10 am–5 pm
The Barnes’s monthly PECO Free First Sunday Family Day offers free admission. In October, programming will explore exhibition themes related to women breaking boundaries through the creative lens.

Barnes Art Ball
Friday, October 15, 2021, 6 pm
This year, the Barnes’s annual fundraiser will take place on-site, bringing together artists, collectors, philanthropists, community partners, thought leaders, and connectors for a night of diverse and dynamic creative experiences. In the Roberts Gallery, Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel will set the tone for a dazzling evening. The Barnes Art Ball raises critical funds that ensure the future of the Foundation’s educational mission, exhibition program, and wide array of community, artistic, and scholarly projects.

Lecture: Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” What Can Linda Nochlin’s Famous Essay Tell Us Today?
Saturday, October 16, 2021, noon
Drawing its title from Nochlin’s 1971 essay, this lecture by scholar Aruna D’Souza explores the societal challenges faced by Valadon and her peers.

Lecture Series: The Female Gaze in Contemporary Art
November (evening talks, dates TBA)
Everyone is familiar with the “male gaze,” whether or not they know the term. It is ubiquitous in Western art and media, in the way that paintings, movies, films, television, novels, and ads depict the world from a masculine, heterosexual point of view, presenting women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male spectator. But what happens when women interrupt the male gaze and use art—visual or otherwise—as a space for expressing their own perspectives and desires?

Inspired by Valadon’s taboo-breaking paintings, this lecture series features contemporary women artists who turn the tables on this entrenched power dynamic. In their works, women occupy the position of gazer (rather than gazed-at), expressing a view on the world—and on sexual desire—that is not often seen. Among the questions these talks will address: Why does the female gaze provoke societal discomfort? Why is female lust still so bizarrely off-limits in mainstream American culture—think of the reaction to Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B. How do race and class factor into these questions?

Artist Bash: Vagina Chorus
Friday, November 12, 2021, 8–10 pm
Althea Rao’s Vagina Chorus speaks to key themes within the exhibition—desire, the female gaze, and a woman’s relationship with her body. This world premiere performance, presented through a unique partnership with Women’s Way, is an immersive audiovisual experience. Artist Bash is organized with program partners Loraine Ballard Morrill of iHeartMedia, OneHunted, Small but Mighty Arts, and the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival.

Education Initiatives:

Exhibition-related courses
Three special 4-week courses will be offered in conjunction with the Valadon show. No Apologies: Suzanne Valadon is an intensive study of the artist’s life and work that will take place on-site and offer students the opportunity to visit the exhibition. An online course titled Posers: A History of the Artist’s Model in European Painting explores the history of the gendered dynamic between male artists and their female subjects; and The Nude in France: From the Ideal to the Real, also offered online, delves into representations of the body in European art in the 18th and 19th centuries. As always, need-based scholarships are available.

Docent tours of the exhibition will be available to the public. In addition, Barnes educators will offer pop-up talks in the exhibition and in the permanent collection galleries focusing on works connected to the themes of the show.

Through the Barnes’s K–12 education program with the School District of Philadelphia, students in grades 7 through 12 will be invited to tour the exhibition, explore Valadon’s artistic process, and discuss issues of underrepresentation of women creatives during the artist’s time. Additionally, a select group of students from two Philadelphia high schools will have the opportunity to learn how to be gallery guides and present talks while the exhibition is open to the public.

Community Engagement:

The Barnes’s Community Engagement and Family Programming team will work with community partners to offer site-based workshops in diverse communities across Philadelphia. Community members engaged through these programs, which will include discussions, presentations, and art-making activities, will be invited to visit the exhibition and explore through guided tours.

This exhibition is organized by the Barnes Foundation and curated by Nancy Ireson, Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions & Gund Family Chief Curator.

Nancy Ireson is the Barnes Foundation’s Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions & Gund Family Chief Curator. A specialist in European art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ireson began her post at the Barnes in August 2018. On completion of a PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art, she began her curatorial career at the National Gallery, London, before taking on roles at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Courtauld Gallery. Ireson was the Rothman Family Associate Curator at the Art Institute of Chicago before becoming Curator, International Art at Tate Modern, London.

Notable exhibitions she has curated or co­curated include Cezanne’s Card Players (Courtauld Gallery, 2010), Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge (Courtauld Gallery, 2011), Temptation: The Demons of James Ensor (Art Institute of Chicago, 2014), Modigliani (Tate Modern, 2017), Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy (Tate Modern, 2018), and Elijah Pierce’s America (The Barnes Foundation, 2020–21). She has published and lectured on a wide range of related subjects.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 160-page catalogue edited by Nancy Ireson, which explores the new ways of looking at Valadon presented in the show. Published by the Barnes Foundation in association with Paul Holberton Publishing, London, the fully illustrated book includes contributions by Ireson, Martha Lucy, Denise Murrell, Adrienne L. Childs, Lauren Jimerson, and Ebonie Pollock that tackle the artist’s treatment of the female figure, her navigation of the art world, and her depictions of an as-yet-unidentified Black model. Additionally, an essay by South African artist Lisa Brice reflects on her interest in the painter, finding resonance between Valadon’s pioneering work and contemporary artists and events, and a chronology by Marianne Le Morvan presents a fascinating overview of the artist’s turbulent life.


Major support for Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Additional support is provided by Comcast NBCUniversal, Denise Littlefield Sobel, and John Alchin and Hal Marryatt.

Ongoing support for exhibitions comes from the Christine and Michael Angelakis Exhibition Fund, the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Exhibition Fund, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, and Aileen and Brian Roberts.

In addition, support for all exhibitions comes from contributors to the Barnes Foundation Exhibition Fund:

Joan Carter and John Aglialoro, Julia and David Fleischner, Leigh and John Middleton, Jeanette and Joe Neubauer

John Alchin and Hal Marryatt, Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz, Lois and Julian Brodsky, N. Judith Broudy, Laura and Bill Buck, Elaine W. Camarda and A. Morris Williams, Jr., Eugene and Michelle Dubay, Penelope Harris, Christine and George Henisee, Jones & Wajahat Family, Lisa D. Kabnick and John H. McFadden, Marguerite Lenfest, Maribeth and Steven Lerner, Victoria McNeil Le Vine, Leslie Miller and Richard Worley Foundation, Hilarie and Mitchell Morgan, The Park Family, The Rittenhouse Hotel, Adele K. Schaeffer, Katie and Tony Schaeffer, Dr. and Mrs. Eugene E. Stark, Joan F. Thalheimer, Bruce and Robbi Toll, van Beuren Charitable Foundation, Kirsten White, Anonymous.

The Barnes Foundation is a nonprofit cultural and educational institution that shares its unparalleled art collection with the public, organizes special exhibitions, and presents programming that fosters new ways of thinking about human creativity. The Barnes collection is displayed in ensembles that integrate art and objects from across cultures and time periods, overturning traditional hierarchies and revealing universal elements of human expression. Home to one of the world’s finest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern paintings—including the largest groups of paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne in existence—the Barnes brings together renowned canvases by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and Vincent van Gogh, alongside African, Asian, ancient, and medieval art as well as metalwork, furniture, and decorative art.

The Barnes Foundation was established by Dr. Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture.” A visionary collector and pioneering educator, Dr. Barnes was also a fierce advocate for the civil rights of African Americans, women, and the economically marginalized. Committed to racial equality and social justice, he established a scholarship program to support young Black artists, writers, and musicians who wanted to further their education. Dr. Barnes was deeply interested in African American culture and became actively involved in the Harlem Renaissance, during which he collaborated with philosopher Alain Locke and Charles S. Johnson, the scholar and activist, to promote awareness of the artistic value of African art.

Since moving to Philadelphia in 2012, the Barnes Foundation has expanded its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and social justice, teaching visual literacy in groundbreaking ways; investing in original scholarship relating to its collection; and enhancing accessibility throughout every facet of its program. Hours and ticket prices are listed on our website.


Deirdre Maher, Director of Communications
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September 2, 2021
8:00 am - 5:00 pm UTC+0
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