“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