Jean Fabris has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
"...what Vermeer did for Delft, Piranesi for Rome, Guardi and Canaletto for Venice, and Whistler for London," the French critic Edmond Jaloux wrote in 1925, "Maurice Utrillo has done for all of Paris" (E. Jaloux, L'Art Vivant, Paris, 1925; quoted in A. Tabarant, Utrillo, Paris, 1926, p. 236). Jaloux's comment, of course, is exaggerated: the Impressionists had already made Paris and its environs the subject of their painting, from the flâneurs of Degas and Caillebotte to Monet's Gare Saint-Lazare series and Pissarro's views of the grands boulevards. But by 1925, Utrillo had become the acknowledged master of the Parisian cityscape, the artist most closely associated by critics and the public with the heart and pulse of the city.
Utrillo painted the French capital throughout his life, specializing in the quaint streets and charming houses of Montmartre, as had Bonnard, Degas, Picasso, Steinlen, van Gogh, and Utrillo's mother, Suzanne Valadon, before him. Montmartre was not only a hub for artists' studios in the fin-de-siècle--among which Picasso's atelier in the legendary Bateau-Lavoir is perhaps the best known--but had furthermore achieved a certain notoriety as the archetypal site of the Parisian bohème. However, it was not the large cabarets, commercial café-concerts and music-halls of the quarter to which Utrillo was drawn, but the small family-owned businesses and tiny backstreets winding up and down la butte, lending a certain authenticity to Montmartre as a small village conceptually distant in time, if not physical proximity, from the booming metropolis.
Utrillo's reputation was grounded in the belief that traditional village life maintains an organic link with the past, a notion of authenticity that critics in turn likened to the artist's style and his carefully constructed naïveté. As Jaloux went on to comment:
Perhaps one is at first surprised by a certain naïveté in his manner of painting, by a certain simplicity in his way of feeling... In point of fact, naïveté and ingeniousness are more apparent than real, however, for one has only to examine with care a canvas by Utrillo to see to what extent one is dealing with a true painter; that is to say, an artist possessing a subtle, varied, and complex sense of color, and making use of admirable materials with which he imparts something magnificently luxurious to the dejected, desperate aspects of modern life. (Quoted in ibid., p. 234)
In Jaloux's opinion, Utrillo's work represented a salubrious response to urban poverty and social decay in the working-class faubourg of Montmartre: an attempt within painting to restore a sense of quiet beauty to the marginal quarters of the city, and thus to retrieve a way of life which the expansion of capital had debased. In the words of the regionalist writer André Chamson:
Utrillo's work depicts the resurgence of an almost abolished world...a resurgence which becomes all the more poignant as one becomes aware that his is a world in which preceded the war... A world both obsolete and calm, tragic now for having been so close to the catastrophe of war, a world which orders itself entirely around the church and the small village hall. (A. Chamson, "Les oeuvres récentes d'Utrillo," Formes, 1930, pp. 5-6; quoted in R. Golan, Modernity & Nostalgia: Art and Politics in France Between the Wars, New Haven, 1995, p. 49)
In this reading, the sense of Utrillo's "stylelessness," or rather, the accent placed on his mastery of a single pictorial idiom, was tied to a broader discourse about social and cultural continuity in an era of transformation. Indeed, critics were quick to observe that the broad outlines of Utrillo's approach to painting had not changed appreciably over the course of his career, as a comparison between Rue de l'Abreuvoir and a work painted twenty-five years earlier suggests. Thus Robert Rey, writing in L'Amour de l'Art the same year as Jaloux, insisted on the "spirit of continuity which animates this diverse oeuvre," and the "almost severe logic of his evolution" (R. Rey, "Utrillo," L'Amour de l'Art, 1925; quoted in A. Tabarant, op. cit., p. 238). What had changed, however, was the hierarchy of social values attending the reception of modern art in France. In contrast to the machine aesthetic of Léger and the Purists, Utrillo's art seemed to promise stability and a return to solid traditions in the wake of World War I--traditions tied to the land and to age-old family values. As Romy Golan has brilliantly analyzed this retour à l'ordre in French art of the 1920s and 1930s, the reactionary ideology of the terrien--of rootedness in the soil and tradition--was an attempt to structure social life in postwar France and to construct a new sense of community and national identity. As the achievements of first-generation modernists were decisively revised, the names of painters like Utrillo, Dunoyer de Segonzac, and Vlaminck gained new prominence. Utrillo's art was the subject of numerous articles and monographs throughout this period, while Vlaminck, the audacious colorist of the Fauve years (see lot 125), had transformed himself into a celebrated and commercially successful regionalist painter whose dark palette appeared to spring from the depths of the French soil itself. The restless spirit of modernity had given way to a sense of nostalgia for a lost, irretrievable past.