Leon Suzanne was born in Bolbec, an important area of Pays de Caux on July 13, 1870. His father was a well-established baker, and he dearly hoped that his son would follow in his foot- steps; this dream was not realized. At a very young age Leon Suzanne displayed amazing talent for drawing. At the tender age of 11, his teacher had the pleasure of seeing him illustrate the history of France, the life of Napoleon and, in particular, the battles of the Emperor.
When he left school, Leon Suzanne apprenticed as a baker, but all his leisure hours were taken with drawing and painting. On the family table, still lifes captured the attention of the young baker’s apprentice, and very quickly this love of art led to estrangement within the family. At the age of 15, Leon Suzanne left the paternal home and went to Rouen as an assistant baker. At that time his life was divided between his profession, which assured him material comfort, and painting, to which he devoted the remainder of his waking hours.
After military service, his father tried to get him established as a baker and tried to make him give up painting. But he had no interest in commerce and gave up the bakery trade for good to devote his life to painting.
At age 25, Leon Suzanne sent one of his works to a framer on rue Saint-Nicholas, which also handled the works of Delattre and Lemaitre whose small panels, representing views of Rouen were selling well. This canvas provoked the admiration of Delattre and thus began a solid friendship between Leon Suzanne and the master landscape painter. A year later, at the opening of the Free Academy in the rue des Charrettes by Delattre, Leon Suzanne would become one of the most avid students alongside Couchaux, Henocque, Louvrier and Bradberry.
In 1897, Leon Suzanne got married and shared a very difficult life as an artist with his courageous wife, who was always devoted to him and nourished him morally and physically the rest of her life. Leon Suzanne left for Paris in 1900 and lived there until 1904. During this time, he collaborated in newspapers edited by Fayard, using his astonishing talent and fertile imagination as illustrator. He also did illustrations for Le Pompon, Gil Blas, la Grande Caricature and Regiment, where he excelled in military sketches.
Returning to Rouen, Suzanne went to L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, place de la Haute-Vielle-Tour. At that time, V. Lelong led the school. Leon Suzanne became the friend of P. Zacharie, who taught composition and drawing classes with living models. Suzanne’s gifts as a landscape artist, which relied on a frank, spontaneous and always colored vision, lead Zacharie to think that the young student possessed solid talents and should become a remarkable element among the Normandy painters.
In December 1906, Leon Suzanne took part in an important collective exhibition, which took place at Galerie Legrip and which was the prelude to the foundation of the Society of Rouen Artists. The critic, E. Morel noted in the Dispatch: “There is a work by M. Suzanne, ‘View of Croisset’ in gray weather, done by a painter of delicate vision and very free composition, however, we regret that there is a little flickering in the foreground”.
It was at that time that Leon Suzanne copied one of Corot’s paintings at the Louvre and he was able to render wondrously well the atmosphere and the melancholy poetry of this beautiful canvas. In January 1907, Leon Suzanne again organized a small exhibition at Legrip, and the critic of the Rouen and Normandy Dispatch wrote: “A very interesting exhibition currently occupies le Galerie Legrip, rue de la Republique; it is that of the young Rouen artist M. Suzanne, whose versatile talent is confirmed in a series of nine studies, all originating from a very delicate vision. M. Suzanne is an impressionist in the good sense of the word. His color is now very frank and very harmonious.” The critic particularly appreciated “Une Rue de l’Epicerie”, “Un Pre au Loup”, “Une Place Cauchoise”, and a pastel of “Rue due Renard”. E. Morel concluded: “This ensemble denotes a great amount of work and constant effort on the part of M. Suzanne towards the very synthetic translation of his impressions”.
Then came a long silence. Consumed by material preoccupation and illness, after spending two years in Rouen, the difficulties of life conspired against him and he decided to withdraw to the charming small village of Lery in the Eure and lived there from 1907 until 1910. During this time, he got to know the painter of Poses, M. Niquet, on whom he lavished advice. Very quickly they went out drawing together and were often joined by E. Tirvert. Rather strangely, Leon Suzanne did not take part in exhibitions at the Salon of Rouen Artists, but in 1909, accompanied by his student, he decided to put on an exhibition at the Galerie Legrip. Leon Suzanne exhibited 19 canvases and Morel stated: “The vision of M. Suzanne who lives at Lery, in order to live closer to nature, is very frank, sometimes a little brutal, but he has a very correct feeling of values, which allows him to note the smallest relations in the most energetic tonality. In addition, he is a painter in the most complete meaning of the word, and among the canvases exhibited, more than one person will be surprised by the vigor in the faultless composition, which has no affection”. The critic G. Dubosc judge the whole exhibition “as a series of very light impressions, treated a little as hasty sketches, with an easy and supple composition, very simple”. He notice particularly “an effect of snow at Gruchet” as being a very original and correct effect. “Two Banks of the Seine at Croisset’, with a blue impression, one a little hard, the other more harmonious, with a pinkish sky which lights up the russet foliage in an island of iridescent tonality.”
In 1910, he left Lery and his beloved bank of the Seine to go back to Rouen, where he painted picturesque corners, like Lemaitre had done. Then came the war, and on the second day Suzanne left and joined the territorial army. His friends in the 21st regiment were witnesses to his courage and the good humor with which he fulfilled his duties as corporal. He was not demobilized until February 11, 1919. Leon Suzanne brought back from his days in the army several piercing drawings, done in blue pencil, pastels and watercolors. French soldiers working the canes, thewinders, his soldiers at rest, down in the dumps, sketches of German soldiers, full of life and movement. He also brought back some landscapes, soldiers making coffee, soldiers in the trenches. As soon as he returned home he immediately took up his brushes again, and started to work furiously, in spite of the first attacks of the illness which finally killed him. He was already very depressed from the five years spent at war.
He made one appearance at the Salon of Rouen Artists in 1920, where he sent four canvases, which were received very favorably by the critics, especially Dubosc: “Leon Suzanne presents, among other canvases a ‘Rue Dehais’ and a ‘Rue de l’Epicerie’ which are very spirited, very simple, correct and picturesque”.
It was a this time that Leon Suzanne met for the first time the distinguished collector who came to him, encouraged him, allowed him to work without material preoccupation, and allowed him to carry out the work to which he gave his entire being. M. Sanson and Leon Suzanne shared the same understanding, the same conception, the same scruples about art, and vowed a friendship that only death could destroy.
Leon Suzanne had this chance at happiness. He drew from this fine connoisseur not only advice, but also criticism and compliments which were precious to him. During these long years he worked despite his illness, suffering with a rare courage, and when the weather was inclement, he went to the library where he studied books about the impressionists, or talked to Dubosc.
When success began to smile on him, and when all his hopes were possible, he died at home, 24 rue Haranguerie, April 5, 1923.