Today I am featuring a work by the French painter and printmaker, Jean-Édouard Vuillard. Vuillard was born in 1868 in Cuiseaux, a commune in the region of Bourgogne in eastern France. His father was a retired sea captain and his mother a seamstress. When he was nine years old the family moved to Paris where his mother established a dressmaking workshop in their apartment. In1883, when Édouard was fifteen years old his father died. Following the death of his father Édouard received a scholarship so that he could continue with his secondary education at the Lycée Condorcet. It was here that he met and became friends with another aspiring artist, Ker Xavier Roussel. Vuillard left the school the following year and he and Roussel continued their artistic education at the studio of Diogène Maillart, which was formerly the studio of Eugene Delacroix.
In 1887, at the age of nineteen, Vuillard finally managed to be accepted at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He had tried twice before but on each occasion failed to pass the entrance exam. In 1889 he enrolled at the Académie Julian where he met Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Ranson and Paul Sérusier. It was Vuillard along with this group of young art students that formed the artistic grouping which came to be known as Les Nabis. The French term nabi refers to a person inspired to speak the word of God and is clearly related to the Hebrew term for prophet (nebia) and the Arabic term for prophet (nábi) . The actual term was first used by the poet Henri Cazalis who drew a parallel between the way these painters aimed to revitalize painting (as prophets of modern art) and the way the ancient prophets had rejuvenated Israel.
In 1898 Vuillard set off on his European travels, visiting Venice and Florence and the following year made a trip to London. In 1890 Vuillard put forward some of his paintings for the 1890 Salon. He was both devastated and angered by the rejection of his works by the Salon jurists and vowed never to put forward any of his future works for Salon consideration. Until the turn of the century Vuillard worked in theatrical circles, illustrating theatre programmes for the Théâtre Libre and even helped to set up the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre , with Aurélien Lugné-Poë which presented the work of the young French Symbolist playwrights and introducing major foreign dramas. Vuillard continued to illustrate theatre programmes and design and paint theatrical settings. In 1901 Vuillard had some of his works exhibited at the Salon des Indépendents and two years later put forward some paintings for the Salon d’Automne, an exhibition staged as a reaction to the conservative policies of the official Paris Salon.
Vuillard continued to live with his widowed mother and did so until her death in 1928. A large number of his paintings had domestic themes or depictions of dressmaking scenes which would be set in the rooms of their house. Often in these works Vuillard and his fellow Nabi painter, Pierre Bonnard, used domestic interior scenes as a setting for their paintings. They were at pains to depict these domestic interiors with all their warmth, comfort and tranquil seclusion. This type of subject matter became known as Intimism. These paintings were marked by a gentle humor, and were finished in the subtle variety of soft, blurred colours. The works would capture the light and atmosphere of the occasion but unlike Impressionism they would often embellish and distort the natural colour so as to communicate mood. Many of his portraiture also retained the sense of Intimism with its calm domesticity. Vuillard continued to receive numerous commissions from private patrons to paint portraits and decorative works as well as frescoes for public buildings. These commissions for public paintings included the decorations in the foyer of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and murals in the Palais de Chaillot and in the League of Nations in Geneva. In his later years Vuillard concentrated on portraiture.
Jean-Édouard Vuillard died in La Baule, in the Loire-Atlantique department in western France, in 1940, aged 71.
My Daily Art Display’s featured oil on canvas painting is entitled Le Corsage Rayé, which Vuillard completed in 1895 and can now be seen in the Collection of Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The work was one of a set of five paintings, known as The Album, based on household subjects, and commissioned by the Polish-born lawyer, journalist and art collector, Thadée Natanson, the publisher and co-founder of an artistic and literary journal called La Revue Blanche. He was also a champion of Vuillard’s art and he and his wife were close friends of the artist. The set of oil paintings were depictions of deep-coloured and richly textured interior scenes of varying formats, representing young bourgeois women engaged in simple domestic activities. The set were to hang in the various rooms of Natanson’s Paris apartment. In the case of this work it shows a woman arranging flowers. The woman who modeled for this work is almost certainly Natanson’s wife, the concert pianist, Misia Godebska.
The woman dominates the painting with her puffed sleeved vintage dress in red and white stripes. No doubt the many years Vuillard watched his mother complete dresses in her studio aided him in the depiction of the woman’s clothing. The woman we see before us is arranging flowers in a vase. It is interesting to note that Vuillard has depicted the flowers not with an explosion of colour but has portrayed them with dull earthy colours. This reason for this one presumes is so that they do not in any way detract from the clothing of the woman which Vuillard wants to be the focus of our attention. Behind the woman we see another woman, dressed in what looks like a red uniform and is probably one of the woman’s servants. Although this is a simple scene of domesticity the presence of the servant in some ways heightens the status of Misia.
I end this entry by mentioning Picasso. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, Picasso made a drawing in 1949 entitled Le Corsage Rayé and his lithographer, Fernand Mourlot had the image recreated in a 300 copy edition. I thought you would like to compare it with today’s featured work. The second reason for mentioning Picasso as my next two entries will feature works by the artist and although I am not a fan of his later works I am fascinated by some of his earlier paintings and enthralled by the early part of his life.
The paintings were sold at auction by Thadée Natanson in 1908, several years after he and his wife Misia were divorced.
My next blog will be about four days away as I am about to embark on my annual pilgrimage to Paris and soak up the atmosphere of the French capital and hopefully take in a gallery visit. I am also hoping, depending on the weather, to visit La Maison Fournaise (see My Daily Art Display August 2nd 2011) and Giverny.
au revoir !