Tag Archives: Edouard Vuillard

Apart From Naughtiness

There are many ways of knowing, there are many sorts of knowledge. But the two ways of knowing, for man, are knowing in terms of apartness, which is mental, rational, scientific, and knowing in terms of togetherness, which is religious and poetic.
—D.H. Lawrence, A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (55)


It was only once I was walking down the dark empty hallway that an awareness began to percolate back into my brain alerting me that I had left my glasses behind. Before the realization entirely sank in, while I was still merely in an optical haze of confusion, I spun around and ran back hoping to beat the timer I had turned—I didn’t want the light to go off and have to blindly find my way back to the stack among multiple stacks. Not my fault. I had gone there to get one book. Just one. But in my arms were four. I got excited and was dashing off like a thief in the night.

People wallow in emotion: counterfeit emotion. They lap it up: they live in it and on it. They ooze it (18-19).

What began as My Skirmish With Jolly Roger, (which I found in there! in the general stacks—a first edition! —I’m going to have to talk with someone about that.) —a stand-alone limited edition of Lawrence’s forward to the “Paris edition” of Lady Chatterley’s Lover— turned into A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, extending the original essay by some fifty pages. I added both to my check out, naturally.

And with counterfeit emotions there is no real sex at all. Sex is the one thing you cannot really swindle; and it is the centre of the worst swindling of all, emotional swindling. Once come down to sex, and the emotional swindle must collapse. But in all the approaches to sex, the emotional swindle intensifies more and more. Till you get there. then collapse (21).

In the essay, Lawrence seems to be trying to find his reader. Not the one who skips to the dirty words, not the one who is sanctimoniously looking for moral outrage, but his reader–the one who craves something true. It is a delicate and precious thing:

Herein lies the danger of harping only on the counterfeit and the swindle of emotion, as most “advanced” writers do. Though they do it, of course, to counterbalance the hugely greater swindle of the sentimental “sweet” writers (23). 

It is even harder, in this day and age, to resist the cynics and avoid the fools. This week I began my summer internship. I am working in the editorial department of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I spend my lunch hour wandering the sublime halls of the museum. I let myself approach each piece of art instinctually—yes or no. It is simple. I have time. No pressure. It is just me. Is the answer to the multiple choice question yes or no? I wish life were so simple.

Édouard Vuillard, Conversation (1897-98)

Édouard Vuillard, Conversation (1897-98)

This is what is the matter with us. We are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilised vase on the table (40).

Poor blossom, indeed. Lawrence advocates passionately, in this essay,  for marriage, which, having been married, forces a sort of reckoning within me. Additionally, as the novel’s plot involves adultery, his stance is interesting. And yet, marriage for marriage’s sake–for stature or security or any other shallow or temporal purpose is exactly what he most vehemently rails against…so,  I do come to see his point. I am not only a dedicated observer of art, I am also an observer of couples, and when I espy the authentic thing—I rejoice with a yes in my heart. Life can be all that.

For an essay that begins, ostensibly, as a warning to the reader of the myriad pirated editions of his work, Lawrence diverges with such fervent passion into the heart of the matter, into our very hearts, that I cannot help adoring him. He is a sane man in a mad world, which may make him appear crazed, but it doesn’t make him wrong.

When the great crusade against sex and the body started in full blast with Plato, it was a crusade for “ideals”, and for this “spiritual” knowledge in apartness. Sex is the great unifier. In its big, slower vibration it is the warmth of heart which makes people happy together, in togetherness. The idealist philosophies and religions set out deliberately to kill this. And they did. Now they have done it. The last great ebullition of friendship and hope was squashed out in mud and blood. Now men are all separate entities. While “kindness” is the glib order of the day—everyone must be “kind”—underneath this “kindness” we find a coldness of heart, a lack of heart, a callousness, that is very dreary (57).

It’s the “dreary” that makes me smile. Yes, it is indeed dreary.

*title from pg. 32

Threads of UPR

“On the way out, confided in Bonnard for the first  time about my love. Sad.”
From the diary of Edouard Vuillard quoted in Vuillard, Master of  the Intimate Interior (52)


The first Edourad Vuillard painting I ever saw was The Suitor (Interior with Work Table) since that time, I have been smitten. I immediately liked his work, but really only considered it carefully after having a conversation with my daughter about a painting problem she had been trying to resolve concerning her backrounds. I sent her images of his work as an example of someone who painted every aspect and surface with the same attention as one would normally reserve for the figure.  My daughter loves printmaking and one of the fabulous things about these turn of the century artists was their appreciation and respectful co-opting of Chinese and Japanese prints. Vuillard’s aggressive patterns belie his quite themes and the tension is exhilarating. The fact that most of the faces of his figures are monotone abstractions make his backgrounds essential to the mood of the painting and the visages of his models become symbolic universalism.

The Gaugin-like emotionality of his work is wonderful, but the thing that I never tire of thinking about is photography’s influence on artists of this time. Vuillard often used a photographic-like close cropping of his view, not to create a sense of claustrophobia, but rather to enhance the intimacy of the room. His paintings have a feel of a scene, set for the stage, and he was in fact one of the first artist to design sets for the theater. His images bask in a quality of serenity, and yet the bustle and complexity of life are expressed within his signature style of tight floral patterning.

Vuillard was involved in a secret organization called The Nabi (Hebrew for prophet) in which the occult and matters of spirituality were a source of inspiration. A focus on the ideas and connotations of decoration and design particularly interested The Nabi, and in Vuillard’s work there is a mystical quality to his patterning.  Whereas Gaugin’s symbolism created magical scenes of paradisaical “primitive” societies, Vuillard transported the Fauvist magical into the realm of the mundane.

With my new found interest, I was thrilled upon seeing so many of his paintings recently at the Yale Gallery.  I brought my very old client to the gallery. We had walked the entire floor and she was tired by the time we got to the Vuillards. She sat on the bench and we spent some time looking at the paintings. Finally she pointed to The Thread and said to me, “That’s how you look when you are doing my sewing.”


The design of his compositions, the push and pull between his use of bright colors and muted tones, strong lines and micro details, entropy and order, as well as the general domestic themes of his paintings all work to captivate me. There is a feeling that his work exudes deeply connecting me to all that is good, yet often lonely and sober, in my world of intense domesticity. Vuillard breaks my heart just a little bit.

The relationships between the people of his paintings as well as between the space and activity are imbued with life and within the life of the painting is a profound feeling of what a friend of mine and I like to refer to as UPR: that hilariously overly-fussy psychological term- unconditional positive response. In other words- love.

[Vuillard] is the most personal, the most intimate of storytellers. I know few pictures which bring the observer so directly into conversation with the artist. I think it must be because his brush never breaks free of the motion which guides it; the outer world, for Vuillard, is always a pretext, an adjustable means of expression.” – André Gide quoted in Vuillard, Master of the Intimate Interior by Guy Cogeval