The Jewish Museum, Part 2: Edouard Vuillard

In addition to Kehinde Wiley at the Jewish Museum, there was a much larger exhibition of Édouard Vuillard (associated with the Nabis, a subset of Post-Impressionists inspired by the example of Gauguin; they focused on flattened space and visual patterning).

When I was a first-year at Smith College (explains a bit about my feminist rants, huh?) I saw a lecture by a Nabis scholar, Katherine Kuenzli, which focused on the shy intimacy and sexual tension of small Vuillard paintings like this one, in the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection:

Edouard Vuillard, Interior with Work Table, or The Suitor, 1893

Because of the interesting lecture, and my pride in and intimacy with this work in Smith’s collection, I came to have a fondness for Vuillard. I certainly preferred him over his better-known, more pastel Nabi cousin, Pierre Bonnard.

But the Jewish Museum’s retrospective, spanning his whole career (which lasted surprisingly long, til his death in 1940), quite lessened my enthusiasm. The show was made up of much larger paintings than the Smith one (a puny 12 x 14 inches), and his style didn’t capture as much attention at a larger scale. Only a small handful, maybe 3 or 4 paintings, really appealed to me.

The most interesting aspects of the exhibition were not the paintings. Vuillard was apparently very engaged in the avant-garde theater of the time–Strindberg, Ibsen, et cetera–and designed sets for them, as well as posters and playbills that were on display in the exhibition. These lithographs hazily blended image and text, and you get a sense that this perfectly suited the moods of the plays themselves.

Interesting too were photographs on display, most of which Vuillard himself took. Suddenly the relation between the patterning of his paintings and the actual interiors and figures he was depicting becomes clear:

Vuillard photograph of the Natansons

Edouard Vuillard, Misia and Vallotton at Villeneuve, 1899


The exhibition concluded with a video about his photographs, which you can also view on the exhibition website, but the narration and presentation were too dull to inspire attention (unlike the fascinating video in the Wiley exhibition).

Also interesting was that he actually became more, not less, photorealistic over time, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. As with the earlier paintings, there would be aspects of the painting that were beautiful, but rarely did the whole composition coalesce into something great. The colors were somehow bright and muddy at the same time, the focus at once too sharp while trying to maintain a stippled effect, the strokes too hard to be soft, but not hard enough.

Edouard Vuillard, Madame Marcel Kapferer at Home, 1916

I still love the Smith picture, but I now see it as more of an exception to his oeuvre, not the rule.

3 thoughts on “The Jewish Museum, Part 2: Edouard Vuillard

  1. Pingback: “Hello, Nature!” and Hello, Maine! | SmARTy ART Chick

  2. Pingback: The Jewish Museum, Part 1: Kehinde Wiley | SmARTy ART Chick

  3. Pingback: Been there, seen it (or so I thought) | SmARTy ART Chick

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