Suzanne Valadon was always best known for her powerful, unconventional, and sometimes controversial figure paintings that included many female nudes. The Abandoned Doll is one of two double portraits the artist created of Marie Cola and her daughter Gilberte, who was Valadon’s niece.
This painting exhibits all the characteristics of Valadon’s mature work: brightly colored forms defined by heavy, dark outlines; strange, somewhat awkward poses; and deliberately simplified, distorted anatomy and space. These traits are also found in the work of post-impressionist painters like Paul Gauguin and fauve pioneers such as Henri Matisse, but Valadon denied being affected by their work and avoided all attempts to label her painting style.
In addition to its unusual aesthetic elements, this painting also has a strong psychological dimension: as the mother dries her daughter’s back after a bath, the girl turns away to study her own image in a hand mirror. Meanwhile, her doll lies on the floor, symbolizing the adolescent’s transition into adulthood.
Although her body is obviously maturing, Gilberte still has a child’s large pink bow in her hair, identical to the one worn on the doll. Avoiding the voyeuristic aspect of so many female nudes painted by men, Valadon gives viewers a compassionate glimpse of an intimate moment in a young girl’s life.
Nancy G. Heller, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and an art historian.