A leading French artist for fifty years, Édouard Vuillard’s paintings, decorative murals and panels, pastels, theatrical designs and color lithographs are noteworthy for his innovative compositions and striking use of color, from his beginnings as an avant-garde Nabi artist of the 1890s to his position as a master portraitist sought by the Parisian haut bourgeoisie in his mature years. Vuillard’s artistic education began two years after he moved with his family to Paris in 1877. He enrolled in the progressive Lycée Condorcet, where he met three fellow students who would become life-long friends: Maurice Denis (1870-1943), Aurélien Lugné-Poë (1869-1940) and Ker-Xavier Roussel (1867-1944). After completing the Lycée in 1885, he worked with Diogène Maillart (1840-1926), then moved to the Académie Julian, and attended the École des Beaux-Arts from 1887 to 1889, where he studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) for six weeks during 1888. In 1889 Denis introduced him to Paul Sérusier (1864-1927) and other young artists who called themselves Les Nabis after the Hebrew word for prophet. In 1891, Vuillard began sharing a studio with Denis, Lugné-Poë and fellow Nabi Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) and also participated in the first Nabi group exhibition. Later that year he met the brothers Alexandre (?-?) and Thadée Natanson (1868-1951), leading to an association with their journal La Revue blanche and many commissions. Thadée Natanson’s wife Misia Godebska Natanson (1872-1950) was a frequent model for Vuillard. He never married, living with his mother until she died in 1928, but he often traveled with the Natansons and other friends and visiting their country houses. La Revue blanche provided him with space for his first solo exhibition in the journal’s offices in 1891, published lithographic illustrations by him, and published two of his lithographs. In 1892 a cousin of the Natansons commissioned Vuillard to create decorative panels for his house, which led to other commissions for decorative panels and easel paintings. By the mid-1890s Vuillard had an established clientele for his work. Vuillard actively participated in the avant-garde theater of Paris during the 1890s, first designing theater programs for André Antoine’s (1858-1943) Théâtre Libre. Vuillard, Lugné-Poë and the writer Camille Mauclair (the pseudonym of Camille Faust, 1872-1945) founded the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre in 1893, dedicated to Symbolist theater. Vuillard created lithographic programs and scenery for performances at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre in 1893, 1894 and 1896, including sets for Alfred Jarry’s (1873-1907) infamous play, Ubu roi, in December 1896. Vuillard became a master of the color lithograph in the 1890s. He created Intérieur (Interior, Roger-Marx 2), a lithograph printed by Ancourt and published in 1893 by André Marty (1857-?) in his celebrated series, L’Estampe originale (The Original Print, 1893-1895). Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) published two of Vuillard’s lithographs in the two portfolios of works that Vollard published in 1896 and 1897. In 1899 Vollard published Vuillard’s Paysages et intérieurs (Landscapes and Interiors, Roger-Marx 31-43), twelve lithographs plus another print for the cover, described by some as among the greatest sets of color lithographs ever made. Vuillard apparently then lost interest in the medium, creating only a few lithographs thereafter. During the early 1900s Vuillard began exhibiting at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris and became close friends with one of the gallery’s partners, Jos Hessel (1859-?) and his wife Lucy Hessel. Lucy became a model for Vuillard as well as a close friend (and perhaps his lover); he frequently visited their summer homes. In 1908 he began teaching at Paul Ranson’s (1862-1909) new Académie Ranson, along with Bonnard, Denis and Roussel. He received public commissions for the new Théâtre des Champs-Elysées (1913) and the Théâtre de Chaillot (1937), both in Paris, and the Palais des Nations (1937) in Geneva. After 1920 he achieved great success in portraiture. Vuillard (with Bonnard and Roussel) refused membership in the Legion of Honor in 1912, but accepted election to the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France in 1937. The following year a major retrospective of his work, with over 300 works, was mounted by the Musée des Arts décoratifs at Paris’s Pavillon de Marsan, with the works selected by Vuillard’s friend (and art critic) Claude Roger-Marx (1888-1977). In June 1940 Vuillard left Paris a few days before the German occupation to join the Hessels at La Baule, on the Atlantic coast near Nantes, and died there on June 21. (TNB 8/2010, rev. 6/2013) Selected bibliography: Cogeval, Guy and Kimberly Jones, et al. Édouard Vuillard. Exhibition catalog. Montreal: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2003. Groom, Gloria, et al. Beyond the Easel. Decorative Painting by Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis and Roussel. Exhibition catalog. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001.
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