Friday, June 15, 2012

Édouard Vuillard

The most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to the work of Édouard Vuillard, the quintessential Parisian artist whose work spans the fin-de-siècle through the 1930s, had its world premiere in Washington at the National Gallery of Art, West Building, January 19, 2003 through April 20, 2003. The exhibition included works that had never been on public display and many that had not been seen for decades. Édouard Vuillard traveled to Montreal, Paris, and London. The last Vuillard exhibition on this scale was a 1938 retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington; The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where it was on view May 15 - August 24, 2003; the Réunion des musées nationaux/Musée d’Orsay, Paris, where it was presented at the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais September 23, 2003 -January 4, 2004; and the Royal Academy of Arts, London, where it was seen January 31 - April 18, 2004.

Approximately 230 works demonstrated the full range of Vuillard’s (1868-1940) prolific career and his embrace of unconventional media. In addition to his luminous paintings, the exhibition included innovative folding screens, theatre programs, prints, drawings, photographs, and ceramics. A highlight of the exhibition was the reunion of The Public Gardens (1894), a series of decorative panels not seen together publicly since 1906 and dispersed at auction in 1929.

Vuillard’s work straddles two centuries: he was a major post-impressionist in the 1890s, as well as a participant in the renewal of decorative art before and after 1900. Vuillard was one of the central figures of "Les Nabis" ("Nabi" means "prophet" in Arabic and Hebrew), a group of Parisian avant-garde artists whose members included Pierre Bonnard and Félix Vallotton, among others. During the Nabi period Vuillard produced some of his best-known work—provocative paintings of middle-class interiors and contributions to avant-garde theater.

Vuillard also worked steadily through his post-Nabi years, from 1900 until his death in 1940. He experimented increasingly with abstraction and powerful color in a manner that bears comparison with Henri Matisse and the Fauves. In the latter decades of his life he expanded his range in natural light, landscape, and portraiture.

Among the works in the exhibition were:

the bold Octagonal Self-Portrait (1890)

The Striped Blouse (1895),

the sumptuously-detailed Interior (Marie Leaning Over her Work) (c.1892-93),
and Misia and Valloton at Villeneuve (1899), all emphasizing textile-like surroundings as well as their subjects.

Vuillard’s dramatic group portrait, The Surgeons (1912-14; reworked 1925 and 1937);

and his tribute to the classic beauty of Versailles during a time of war, The Chapel at the Château de Versailles (1917, 1919; reworked 1926-1928).

The exhibition featured The Public Gardens (1894), a series of large panels considered the grandest and most complex of Vuillard’s decorative projects. Created for a private salon, The Public Gardens has appeared publicly in its entirety only once, at a Paris exhibition in 1906; the panels were dispersed at auction in 1929. Eight of the nine panels were brought back together as part of this exhibition.

The exhibition also broke new ground with a selection of photographs by Vuillard, who enthusiastically embraced the new technology of photography in 1897. A gallery of Vuillard’s photographs of family and friends will offer a rare glimpse into his intimate circle and illuminate the ways photography informed his painting. The majority of photos in the exhibition have never been seen publicly or published.

Guy Cogeval, director, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, was the chief curator of the exhibition, with co-curators: Kimberly Jones, assistant curator, department of French paintings, National Gallery of Art; Laurence des Cars, curator, Musée d’Orsay, Paris; and MaryAnne Stevens, collections secretary and senior curator, Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Édouard Vuillard, the exhibition catalogue, was copublished by The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Authored by Guy Cogeval with Kimberly Jones, Laurence des Cars and MaryAnne Stevens, and with contributions by Dario Gamboni, Elizabeth Easton and Mathias Chivot, the catalogue contains five essays on aspects of the artist’s work, from his fascination with photography to the impact of country sojourns on his painting (520 pages, 463 color, 95 b/w).

Cogeval is also the author of the catalogue raisonné, Vuillard: Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels.