LITERATURE P. Pétridès, L'oeuvre complet de Maurice Utrillo, Paris, vol. V, no. AG 562 (illustrated p. 46).
Known as the 'painter of Montmartre', Utrillo is one of the few artists to depict this bohemian quarter in Paris who was actually native to the district. In the present work he shows the iconic windmill, restaurant and place of entertainment in the still-rural Montmartre, which was popular with local clientèle and artists such as Renoir, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. However, in keeping with his own solitary nature, Utrillo shows not the hub of social activity that we see in Renoir's Bal du Moulin de la Galette of 1876 but rather a quiet back-street view in which the eponymous windmill is only partially seen. Seen from behind, the main focus of the work are the fences and walls of the street on which the viewer stands alone.
The artist led a troubled and secluded life and, unsettled by the attention he received when painting outside, he preferred to remain in his studio. Working from memory and postcards, his oeuvre is dominated by the streets of Paris (Montmartre in particular) and still lifes. This fondness for unpeopled compositions has been attributed to his reserved nature by Alfred Werner: 'undoubtedly the shy Utrillo prefers flowers to people. They do not upset his balance by endless talk' (A. Werner, Utrillo, London, 1953, p. 6).
Painted in a harmonious palette of soft greens, blues, greys and of course white, Le Moulin de la Galette à Montmartre was executed circa 1915 and certainly looks back to Utrillo's 'période blanche' in which he moved away from the strong yellows, turquoises and reds of his earlier paintings and confined his palette to white and shades of grey. In order to attain a greater realistic effect with his paintings, Utrillo was even known to mix sand and gypsum into the paint in order to recreate what he saw before him, noting 'they're not in silver-white, the [wall] façades, are they? Not in zinc white...They are made of plaster' (quoted in D. Franck, Bohemian Paris, New York, 2001, p. 10).
In the present work the viewer sees the Moulin de la Galette not through a visitor's eyes but the local artist's own, glimpsed from an ordinary street corner, executed with an everyday realism and yet brought to life with his light palette and loose brushstrokes: 'Maurice Utrillo is the painter of Montmartre. Since Lépine, I believe no artist has been able to render with such acute sensitivity the sad charm of this little provincial town' (Maurice Utrillo, exh. cat., Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute Museum of Art, 1963, n. p.).