Renoir's Dancer: The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon

About the Author

Catherine Hewitt studied French literature and art history at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. Her proposal for her first book, The Mistress of Paris, was awarded the runner-up’s prize in the 2012 Biographers’ Club Tony Lothian Competition for the best proposal by an uncommissioned, first-time biographer. She lives in a village in Surrey.

Renoir's Dancer: The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon

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Catherine Hewitt

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 facade 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 18, 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.

  • Hardcover
  • 6.4 x 9.5 inches
  • 480 pages
  • Published: 2018

Editorial Reviews

“Valadon provides Hewitt with a glorious cast, including Renoir, van Gogh, Toulouse-Laurtrec, and Degas. . . . 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.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Suzanne Valadon may not be a name most people mention when they discuss great artists. This biography should change that. . . . A self-taught artist, she started as a nude model. But when Edgar Degas saw her secret drawings, he said, ‘you are one of us,’ and helped her become the first woman painter to have works accepted into the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.” Kirkus (starred review)

“[An] absorbing, thoroughly researched book. A must for art lovers and scholars, it will also appeal to readers of serious historical biographies.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“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.’” —Publishers Weekly

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