'Maurice Utrillo: Un peintre solitaire qui aimait Paris'

by Marius Gombrich

Sompo Japan Museum of Art

Closes July 4

Maurice Utrillo is one of those artists who seem to defy gravity. When you take a good, long look at his canvases and notice the repetitiveness of subject matter (Parisian street corners and buildings apparently chosen at random) and his unsophisticated technique, at times reminiscent of naive painters like Henri Rousseau and L.S. Lowry, you can’t help wondering why his reputation is still so high?

The exhibition at the Sompo Japan Museum, which recreates a popular Parisian show from last year, doesn’t dare ask these questions, but the show’s title “Maurice Utrillo: Un peintre solitaire qui aimait Paris” (a lonely painter who loved Paris), gives one clue. Utrillo’s back story has always played to his advantage. He was the illegitimate child of the Impressionist artist and model Suzanne Valadon and an unknown father — both Renoir and Degas have been included within the circle of suspicion! “Surely someone with so many artistic genes must himself be a great artist?” we find ourselves thinking. Then there’s his alcoholism. The image of a flawed, broken man forlornly painting the “gay” streets of Paris has a certain ironic, melancholy charm.

But other key ingredients were his high output and the fact that, whether good or bad, his canvases are recognizable as Utrillos. In other words, he was able to establish himself as an “artistic currency,” and once your works are owned by enough people, a conspiracy to talk them up soon emerges. Then there’s the associational value of the subject matter. If you paint Paris as often as Utrillo did, then finally you become Paris.

The Sompo Japan Museum of Art is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., closed Mon.; admission ¥1,000. For more information visit,