Édouard Vuillard at the Norton Simon Museum
Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940) was among the most innovative artists in fin-de-siècle Paris, a founding member of the radical Nabi group, a friend and fellow traveller of Bonnard, Denis and Toulouse-Lautrec. Vuillard is best known for his paintings of domestic interiors, intimate scenes populated by friends and family-members and crowded with competing patterns—wallpapers, textiles, latticed windows. Norton Simon acquired his first works by the artist, a suite of color lithographs, in 1964 and continuing to buy pictures and prints by Vuillard for the next twenty years. Today the Museum is home to four paintings and thirteen lithographs by the artist, all dated to the crucial decades between 1890 and 1910 when his work was at its boldest.
Vuillard’s subjects were close to his heart: his mother, a dressmaker, sewing by lamplight; his dearest friend, Lucie Hessel, relaxing at home; the view from a country house where he spent one summer with his sister and her family. His treatment of these ordinary subjects was radical; his pictures exhibit a striking flatness, a sense that space recedes not into them, but up and across their surfaces, erecting a kind of painted screen or protective barrier between us as observers and the private moments we observe.
To achieve this signature flatness, Vuillard drew inspiration from two sources. On the one hand, a European tradition of wall decoration—from frescos and tapestries to modern papiers-peints (wallpapers)—encouraged Vuillard to produce paintings destined for domestic decoration; the monumental First Fruits, which mimics the effect of a tapestry, originally adorned the library of a private house in Paris. On the other hand, Japanese woodblock prints, widely collected and admired in late-nineteenth-century Paris, encouraged Vuillard to treat spatial recession and three-dimensional form in new abstract terms; the thirteen lithographs that comprise Landscapes and Interiors take Japanese prints as their model.