This book only exists because of you.
When I published THE SECRET LIFE OF SUNFLOWERS, I didn’t know how it would be received. I’d never written anything historical before. Without your amazing response—the emails, Facebook posts, online reviews—I would probably not have written anything historical again. Words cannot adequately express how grateful I am to you.
Suzanne Valadon was a celebrated artist of her time, the equal of any Post-Impressionist artist, but after her death, history only remembered the men. She was forgotten for the most part, and quickly. In her obituary, the newspaper Le Figaro calls her the wife of an artist (her second husband, Utter) and mother of an artist, but says nothing about her being an artist herself, despite the fact that she created hundreds of works of art, had four retrospective exhibits during her lifetime, and suffered her fatal stroke (at age 72) literally while painting at her easel.
Her son, Maurice Utrillo, became a famous artist, to the point that in a few sources I consulted, Suzanne was only mentioned as Utrillo’s mother.
So how much of this book is true? The historical half is based on real people and events; the present-day story is entirely fictional. But even the historical parts are not a hundred-percent fact. I could only work from what material I could find in books and online. Extended research trips to Paris are not in my budget. I stayed as close to the truth as I could, and when I didn’t know what the truth was, I made a choice, for the story’s sake.
A couple of things made my task more difficult. One, some of these events were described by Suzanne’s contemporaries, colored by their own prejudices and all the gossip around her. Two, Suzanne liked to tell a good story and often bent the truth herself. She, in fact, misstated her year of birth all her life, making herself younger. On this, I went with the official birth record. As far as I can tell, nobody knows who the father of her son was. Nearly every source I consulted said something different. I personally think Renoir is the most likely choice, but obviously I can’t guarantee paternity.
Suzanne Valadon was a larger-than-life figure, and so the rumors and stories that swirled around her, before and after her death, were many.
When I first outlined this story and started writing this book, she’d not yet had an exhibit in the United States. However, in September of 2021, the fabulous Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia debuted her first US show. Like an idiot, I missed it, because I was in a fit of unsubscribing from newsletters, because my email was becoming unmanageable. (Yes, I’m still crying about that.)
To take a break from feeling sorry for myself, I will give you an update on Ellie…
The Museum of Unseen Art is a major tourist attraction. The Suzanne Valadon exhibit was a huge success. Other museums took note and are bringing this artist to the attention of audiences everywhere. Suzanne Valadon is a respected and beloved artist once again.
Frank fell off the wagon and ran off to Atlantic City for three days. He came back with the jackpot ($1.2 million) and paid off the equity loan on the house. Then he ran off to Vegas.
In spite of numerous late-night calls, Abby will not take him back.
Ellie and Joshua are still together, living happily with Sam. They are expecting kittens.
Artist Profile/National Museum of Women in the Arts: https://nmwa.org/art/artists/suzanne-valadon
Suzanne Valadon/ArtNet: https://www.artnet.com/artists/suzanne-valadon
Suzanne Valadon: Model, Rebel, Painter: https://www.barnesfoundation.org/whats-on/exhibitions/suzanne-valadon