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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Edouard Vuillard

Edouard Vuillard Self-portrait, 1889
Everyone, I guess, has their own little peccadilloes. One of mine is clutter. I can stand a little dust, even the unattractive, but disarray makes me nervous. I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm a neatness freak or compulsive about it, but too much "stuff" sitting around drives me crazy. I either throw it away or put it away. Don't peek in my closets, however. At least there, it's stacked stuff, hidden, out of sight, though I'm sure Fibber McGee (an old radio character) would feel right at home. For this reason artists who paint clutter make me nervous too. Therefore, Edouard Vuillard is not one of my favorite artists. Busy, busy, busy, not a square inch without stripes, flowers, jim-cracks and gewgaws; pretty well describes his work. I sometimes wonder if he made even Victorian art lovers shudder in dismay at his prim and proper over-decorated interiors (below). But lest I be accused of "playing favorites," I should also point out his work does have certain redeeming qualities.

Interieur, 1902, Edouard Vuillard,  here a
restful, relatively benign, patterned clutter.
Vuillard was born in 1868. He died in 1940. I suppose he can be somewhat excused for his penchant toward Victorian excess in that quite frankly, he never knew anything else. He never married. He lived with his mother and sister all their lives. They were seamstresses. Patterned fabrics were their lives.  And inasmuch as he often used them as models, his figures and surroundings tend to have a soft, heavily upholstered look about them. Though he was not an Impressionist his style was impressionistic. It was also very individualistic. He's often cast among the Nabis (pronounced NOB-ies) but in fact, shared little with them other than a reactionary distaste for Impressionism. But like the impressionists, his canvases are loaded with paint. Also, his compositions have a somewhat "unbalanced" snapshot quality to them suggesting he was not unfamiliar with photographic art if not in fact, working from photos.

Edouard Vuillard Self-portrait, 1892
Notice the differences in this rather
expressionistic image and the
1889 effort at the top.
In addition to painting, Vuillard was also into lithography. And given the fact that the Paris of the 1890s in which he came of age artistically, was very much "into" posters, it's little wonder that the two meshed. Though not as flat or as well-designed as those of the ultimate poster lithographer, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, his posters, far more than his painting, were to have a broad influence on those artists of the early Picasso era struggling to free art from the very excesses so disturbingly common in so many of Vuillard's paintings. Yet as his 1892 self-portrait suggests, at least some of his painting was not far removed from the second and third generation avant-garde painters who came to idealize him, in spirit if not in their actual painting style. There is a very hard edged, unsentimental, almost cubist look to the strikingly stark image. A contemporary of Matisse, one might expect his work to be quite similar since both men loved to play with patterned surfaces, but that's not the case. Matisse's colors depart reality for points unknown. Vuillard's never do. Nor do his compositions defy reality as do those of Matisse. Unlike Matisse, few have ever made an attempt to paint like Vuillard. But that never kept him from influencing the way they saw and thought about their art.
Breakfast at Villerville, 1910, Edouard Vuillard, a nervous, almost abstract, clutter
of shapes, masses, and colors.

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