Sacré Cur de Montmartre et Square Saint-Pierre signed and dated 'Maurice, Utrillo, V/1932.' (lower right) oil on canvas 46.5 x 30.5cm (18 5/16 x 12in). Painted in 1932
PROVENANCE Acquired by the father of the previous owner in Paris in the 1930s. Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 6 February 2002, lot 194. Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
This painting will be included in the next volume of the forthcoming Maurice Utrillo catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre being prepared by Monsieur Jean Fabris.
Maurice Utrillo was, first and foremost, a painter of Paris but furthermore he was the product of everything that his birth place of Montmartre had to offer in the first half of the 20th century. His paintings of Paris reveal his own emotional attachment to the places he painted and the Sacré Coeur was one of the artist's favourite subjects.
The significance of the Sacré Coeur for Utrillo may have been three-fold. Firstly, it was a monumental feet of architecture that was not completed and consecrated until 1919, making it a decisively modern event for Utrillo to record. Secondly, it is a Church of great beauty and a beacon for Montmartre, which had been Utrillo's homeland up to this point in time. He was an artist who painted what he cared about and after 1924, when he became far more religious than he had been previously, Paris's Church buildings gained greater significance to him. Thirdly, and far more circumspectly, it was widely thought at the time that that Utrillo had been fathered by Renoir during the period that his mother, Suzanne Valadon, had been Renoir's studio model. From Renoir's house, the Sacré Coeur was easily visible and perhaps Utrillo was interested in this fundamental link with his own past.
Sacré Coeur de Montmartre et Square Saint-Pierre comes from Utrillo's colourist period, which is marked by a brightening of colour after the rough, white pigments that he had used previously and a more curvaceous use of line and form than the former, more geometric, compositions. It is also in this period that his women with bustle-like rears appear, often in couples and walking away from the viewer (as observed by Alfred Werner in Maurice Utrillo, 1981, p.26), and who help create perspective and movement within the composition. The diagonal lines of the pathways and the horizontal and vertical lines of the Sacré Coeur itself frame the figures.
Despite the initial impression of simplicity that this painting expresses, Utrillo's rich brushwork and composition transforms the reality into something far more subjective and captivating.