Analysis of Suzanne Valadon’s The Blue Room
Suzanne Valadon was a rebellious
painter who never confined herself to the boundaries of traditional art. She
changed the way women were portrayed in art, leaning away from the male gaze.
Valadon’s most famous paintings were painted during the 20th
century, a time of change for women. During this time period, there was resistance
to traditional norms. For instance, women started cutting their hair short,
wearing what they wanted and smoking. This shift is seen in Valadon’s
paintings, especially The Blue Room which is one of her most
recognizable works (Fig. 1). Valadon resisted traditional portrayals of women,
moving away from sexualization, and focusing more on the realistic depiction of
women in everyday life.
Valadon grew up in Montmartre, a
quarter of Paris, to an unmarried mother. Unlike her female counterparts, like
Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt, she was not born into wealth. This allowed her
to develop the confidence to paint different, more challenging subjects. Due to
her lack of wealth, she could not afford art lessons as other artists in her
time could. Therefore, she turned to modeling at the age of fifteen to get
close to artists and to observe their techniques. She modeled for many of the
most famous Impressionists like Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-
Lautrec. Although her lack of wealth put her at a disadvantage, it also put her
in a position to watch famous artists at work; therefore, becoming both a muse
and a painter as a result. She quickly became one of the most well-documented
and popular French artists. Therefore, she has become an inspiration for many
female artists. She was encouraged by Edgar Degas who was the first person to
purchase drawings from her. Thanks to him, she was introduced to art collectors
like Paul Durand- Ruel and Ambroise Vollard. This encouragement helped her
start her career in art. Her drawings were admitted into the Société Nationale
des Beaux-Arts, making her the first woman painter to ever have work accepted.
Valadon was not confined to a
specific style of painting, however, her style most reflects Symbolist and Post-Impressionism
art. Post-Impressionist art dealt with vivid colors, prominent brushstrokes,
and painting from everyday life. These are all characteristics of Valadon’s
paintings. Her paintings feature rich and bold colors, loose brushwork, and
firm black lines outlining her figures. The most prominent subjects in her
paintings were female nudes and self-portraits which did not conform to the
trends and aspects of academic art during that time. Unlike typical female
nudes painted by men, these nudes were depictions of working-class women. She
painted women engaging in everyday activities. She wanted to move away from the
sexualized depictions of women and move toward the realistic depiction of
unidealized women. She defied the traditional ideals of femininity and
portrayed women as muscular straying away from the stereotypes of women during
that time. Not only did she paint other nude women, but also painted herself
nude. The combination of the self-portrait and the nude was revolutionary
during that time. Other female painters were not displaying themselves in this
way. Later in her career, she displayed her aging body, with sagging skin and
wrinkles. Her painting style and subjects used changed the art world for the
Her most notable work is The Blue
Room or La chambre bleue. This was painted in 1923 during the time
of the roaring ’20s. There were significant changes for women in the 1920s. Two
major changes were the passage of the 19th amendment which allowed
women to vote and the increasing number of women joining the workforce. In
addition, women started to create pushback regarding fashion and social norms.
For example, they wore shorter skirts, had bobbed hair, and started smoking.
This shift is seen in The Blue Room. The woman in this painting is a
working-class woman wearing casual clothes. She is smoking with books beside
her presumably reading which were typical activities for men. She uses this
painting to show her view on society’s changing social norms.
The Blue Room was radical for
Valadon’s time. Valadon portrays a curvy woman lounging on her bed. Her bed and
her surroundings are unkempt and casual, directly contributing to the overall
mood of this work. The woman is wearing loungewear, green striped pants along with
a pink camisole, and bare feet. She is almost lost in thought with a cigarette
dangling in her mouth. She is relaxing with her hair tied up, preparing to read
the books lying beside her. This is truly a depiction of a woman engaging in
everyday activities, reflecting Valadon’s style and intentions. The women’s
pose is reminiscent of classical Renaissance nudes. This is particularly why
this painting is so significant. The same pose can be seen in Titian’s Venus
with an Organist and Cupid (Fig. 2). Their arms are resting in the same
position while lying across a somewhat messy bed. The backgrounds are both
complicated but do not take away from the actual subject. However, there is an
absence of a man sitting beside her suggesting the fact that Valadon did not
want to sexualize women in any way like Titian was doing. Titian’s work
idealizes the female body to attract the male gaze. Valadon “didn’t adhere to
the delicate femininity that was expected of the time. They were contemporary
women with modern clothes and hairstyle, as well as body hair—a far cry from
the timeless nudes so prevalent in art history” (Palumbo). She used her
paintings to respond to paintings like Venus with an Organist and Cupid.
Her painting, The Nude on the Sofa is another example of a painting that
does not depict a female as an object of desire (Fig. 3). She once again
depicts a contemporary woman lying down on a patterned sofa with short hair,
lost in thought. The subject this time is nude, but the meaning and object of
this painting are the same as in The Blue Room. She uses her same
distinctive style in this painting. There is a thick black line around the
woman helping separate the woman from the busy background. There are unblended
strokes of paint in both paintings which are typical in most of her works. She
uses blues and purples to represent shadows. Not only did Valadon paint nude
women she also painted nude men which was an uncommon and daring feat at that
time. In her 1914 work Casting the Net, she depicts three nude men standing
on rocks casting a net, hence the title (Fig. 4). She presents them as a figure
of desire, posing them in a way to show off their features. Her distinct firm
black lines around her subjects help enhance the men’s features. It allows the
viewer to see the men’s muscles. Valadon reversed the social norms and painted
men in a way male artists would paint women. Valadon did not conform to the
traditional subject of art, focusing more on the realistic depiction of women.
Her style was revolutionary, bringing her to fame.
Suzanne Valadon was the
best-documented French artist of the twentieth century. Her lack of wealth and
art lessons did not stop her from becoming a well-known artist. She was not
influenced by academic art and was able to freely express herself in her
paintings. She was not confined to one style and painted challenging subjects,
unlike her other female contemporaries. Her job as a muse allowed her to
observe the techniques of some of the most famous artists. Artists like Degas
and Toulouse-Lautrec encouraged her art career, helping her become the first
woman to be in the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Her primary focus in her
paintings was the female form. Her most famous work is The Blue Room.
This not only touched on the changing social and fashion norms during the
twentieth century but also moved away from the sexualization of women in
artwork. She even painted male nudes, to reverse the social norms and paint men
as a subject of desire. Unlike any other artists, she painted herself nude in
which she showed the effects of aging. Valadon was vulnerable in that aspect
and ultimately changed the way women were depicted. Suzanne Valadon has been an
inspiration for other female artists and changed the art world for the better.
Palumbo, Jacqui. “This Rebellious Female
Painter of Bold Nude Portraits Has Been Overlooked for a Century.” CNN, Cable
News Network, 8 Feb. 2021, https://www.cnn.com/style/article/suzanne-valadon-nudes-art-history/index.html.
“Suzanne Valadon: Artist Profile.” NMWA, 3 June 2020,
“Suzanne Valadon Paintings, Bio, Ideas.” The
Art Story, https://www.theartstory.org/artist/valadon-suzanne/.
“Suzanne Valadon.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia
Foundation, 30 Nov. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzanne_Valadon#Style.
“The Blue Room (Valadon).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia
Foundation, 27 Oct. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blue_Room_(Valadon).
“Venus with an Organist and Cupid - The
Collection.” The Collection - Museo Nacional Del Prado,
Class of 2023Click here to see more of this student's work.