“To say a thing is beautiful is simply an act of faith, not a measurement on some kind of scale.” ~Édouard Vuillard
Édouard Vuillard (pronunciation) was a French painter and printmaker associated with the Nabis group of artists. He is noted for his intimate, atmospheric interiors, often populated with small groups of people. In addition to painting, he worked extensively as a printmaker and stage designer.
He was born in Cuiseaux, Saône-et-Loire (pronunciation) on November 11, 1868, into a family of artisans. His father was a tailor and his mother a milliner. He initially intended to follow in his father’s footsteps and study tailoring, but he eventually developed an interest in painting and enrolled at the École des Arts Décoratifs (pronunciation) in Paris in 1887. There he was initially influenced by the work of Pierre Bonnard, but he also drew inspiration from Japanese woodblock prints and Paul Cézanne.
In 1893, Édouard Vuillard co-founded the avant-garde group known as the Nabis with Paul Sérusier and Pierre Bonnard. The Nabis were dedicated to restoring a sense of order and meaning to painting through the use of strong colors, flat surfaces, and simplified forms. They also sought to apply these principles to the decoration of everyday objects such as wallpaper and furniture.
Édouard Vuillard Early Success
Vuillard first gained critical acclaim with his painting Interior at Arcachon (1893), which was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants that year. In the early 1890s, he began creating a series of portraits and domestic scenes featuring women in white dresses set against brightly patterned backgrounds. These “decorative panels,” as they were called, were Vuillard’s response to the work of James Whistler and other artists who had been experimenting with similar motifs.
In 1899, Vuillard married Marie-Louise Hesselin, a fellow student at the École des Arts Décoratifs. The couple had two daughters, but their marriage was unhappy and they eventually divorced. Vuillard began to withdraw from the Nabis group around this time, although he remained close friends with several of its members.
Èdourard Vuillard During the Great War
In the years leading up to World War I, Vuillard shifted his focus from painting to printmaking and stage design. He created the sets and costumes for several productions by the French playwright Jacques Copeau, including a landmark production of Molière’s Tartuffe in 1914. He also designed the sets and costumes for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes production of L’Après-midi d’un faune in 1912, which featured music by Claude Debussy.
During World War I, Vuillard served in the French army and was stationed in Nancy, in the northeast of France. It was here that he created some of his most famous works, including a series of military portraits and a group of paintings known as The Dining Room of the Officers’ Mess (1915-16).
After the war, Édouard Vuillard returned to Paris and resumed his work as a printmaker and stage designer. He also began to experiment with new techniques, such as collage and decoupage. In the 1920s, he produced a number of important series of prints, including the “Nabis” series (1921-22), the “Decorative Panels” series (1925-27), and the “Interiors” series (1928-29).
In 1930, Vuillard was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The disease gradually began to impair his vision, and he was eventually forced to give up painting altogether. He continued to work as a printmaker and stage designer, however, and also took up photography. He died in Paris on 21 June 1940.
Èdourard Vuillard’s work was rediscovered in the 1950s by a new generation of artists, including Raoul Dufy, Pierre Bonnard, and Henri Matisse. His work is now recognized as an important precursor to both Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art.