Born in Montmartre in Paris to an unknown father, Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955) was the son of Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938), a model and painter. He lived with his mother and grandmother in Montmartre and in the north of Paris. Encouraged to paint to distract him from his precocious alcoholism, he continued painting for pleasure, and shared his mother’s studio at 12 rue Cortot in Montmartre. He sold his first work in 1905, and exhibited at the prestigious Salon d’Automne in 1909. His art helped him to overcome his painful daily struggle, which was punctuated by stays in mental homes and treatments for his alcoholism.
Montmartre provided Utrillo with a subject for hundreds of paintings. He would make numerous paintings of a street or a monument that inspired him, like the Eglise de Clignancourt [Church at Clignancourt]. Austere buildings alternate with small, animated figures.
He reached the peak of his career from 1912 to 1914, his famous "white period", characterised by white impasto applied with a palette knife, in which he sometimes mixed the plaster that was then manufactured on the Butte Montmartre.
The art dealer Paul Guillaume (1891-1934) discovered Utrillo’s paintings in the years after 1910 thanks to the poet Max Jacob (1876-1944) who also lived in Montmartre. In 1922 Paul Guillaume finally organised an exhibition of thirty-five of Utrillo’s works, which brought him great success. The painter was launched, and his works sold for much higher prices. This is known as the painter’s “coloured” period.