In the first of these two articles looking at the career and paintings of Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940), I looked at his Nabi paintings up to the start of the twentieth century, by which time his style was already undergoing change.
Under the Trees of the Red House from about 1905 was painted using glue distemper, which had been one of the very old practices revived by the Nabis. Its chroma is higher, and the fine patterning has been replaced with coarser textures and bolder brushmarks.
By 1907, when Vuillard painted his mother Madame Vuillard Sewing, Rue de la Tour, known as ‘Scaffolding’, the sun had come out and his chroma increased. His sketchy brushwork was starting to include details rather than just patterns, and the result was heading in a similar direction to Pierre Bonnard’s post-Nabi style.
He also painted many landscapes, including Houses in Brittany in 1909. Here he has returned to working in glue distemper on paper, and using more muted colours.
In Children Reading, from 1909, he uses a minimum of highly gestural marks just sufficient to create the illusion of these two children reading at a table.
From this emerged the carefully-composed realist scene which he painted at this resort on the Normandy coast, At The Pavillons in Cricqueboeuf. In Front of the House, from 1911. This was again painted using glue distemper. The view has depth, and the patterning in clothing and objects such as the deckchair and the foliage is no longer so dominant.
Vuillard started painting more portraits, such as this of Lucy Hessel Reading from 1913. Lucy was the wife of the art dealer Jos Hessel (1859-1942), and she was a frequent model, companion and long-term lover of Vuillard. Her husband was Vuillard’s sole dealer at the time.
For this Portrait of Jacques Laroche, at his Workdesk from 1916, Vuillard combined gouache with pastel. Pinned on the wall above the scholarly child is a large map of Paris.
Vuillard found relief from a steady succession of portraits and other commissions by returning to still lifes, such as his Roses in a Glass Vase from about 1919.
He still occasionally returned to a more Nabi style, it would appear. This painting of his mother Madame Vuillard Sewing is claimed to date from 1920. Madame Vuillard, who by this time must have been in her early seventies, doesn’t even look up, but continues to work on what looks like the darning of a pair of grey socks or gloves.
La Salle Clarac, painted in 1922 in oil with distemper on canvas, is one of four paintings showing the interior of the Musée du Louvre, which were commissioned for a private collection in Switzerland. Painted from an unusual angle at about waist height, it looks up at a case of pottery and sculpture, and the held gaze of the visitors.
After the First World War, Jos and Lucy Hessel bought a house in the quiet town of Vaucresson, to the west of Paris. Many of Vuillard’s paintings from about 1920 onwards show them, Lucy in particular, in its garden and interior. In Reading in the Dining Room, Vaucresson from 1924, Jos is sitting at the breakfast table reading the newspaper, as a woman (probably Vuillard’s lover Lucy) is busy in the next room. This bears comparison with Bonnard’s many paintings of his life in the Midi at this time.
Vuillard’s sketch portrait of Madame Gaston Lévy and Her Daughter from about 1928-30 was made in pastel and charcoal.
His later finished paintings, though, continued to be quite realist, as shown in Morning Concert, Place Vintimille from 1937-38, which he made using glue distemper. Between 1908-26, Vuillard lived in a fifth floor apartment in Rue de Calais, Paris, which overlooked what was then known as Place Vintimille, now Place Adolf-Max. This trio of friends were presumably playing for the artist in that apartment.
The Place Vintimille features in several of his other works over this period, including a large five-panelled screen which he painted in 1911, now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Édouard Vuillard continued his prolific output until the Second World War. He died in La Baule, a seaside resort in southern Brittany, in 1940. I have been surprised by many of his paintings from the twentieth century, which are very different from the stereotypical Nabi works which I have seen before. Like Bonnard, he evolved from his youthful style, and stands as one of the major artists of the early twentieth century.