A new exhibition, the first major show in New York of works by Edouard Vuillard for more than 20 years, reveals the life of the French artist and reappraises the significance of his 20th century work.
“Edouard Vuillard, A Painter and his Muses, 1890-1940,” which opens at The Jewish Museum on May 4 and runs through September 23, includes 50 key paintings, as well as prints, photographs and documents.
Vuillard’s artistic career began in La Belle Epoque from 1890 to the end of World War One, and ended with the German occupation of France. His focus was the acute observation of society.
“This is one of those shows that has points of interest for a wide audience. One really can’t understand France in the first half of the 20th century without having some knowledge of Vuillard’s portraiture,” said Stephen Brown, assistant curator at The Jewish Museum.
Brown said there was also tremendous interest in Vuillard as part of a more inclusive reappraisal of how people think about the 20th century and art.
Vuillard is best known for the paintings and prints he did in the last decade of the 1800s when he was part of an avant-garde group of artists known as the Nabis, which means prophets in Hebrew or the enlightened in Arabic.
Two works in the exhibit from his Nabi period are “Woman in a Striped Dress, from The Album,” done in 1895, and “Misia and Vallotton at Villeneuve,” completed four years later.
Brown said Vuillard’s work after 1900 was frequently viewed as a retreat into conservatism. Although he worked during a period that spanned Impressionism, Cubism, Expressionism and abstraction, the artist remained committed to the techniques and subjects of his youth.
“Vuillard’s visual language developed from many different sources and his style and approach was quite varied. Sometimes he painted something just because he loved to do it on a spontaneous level and in other works he searched for that finished perfection, such as the Bloch family portrait, ‘Madame Jean Bloch and Her Children,’ which is being shown in the United States for the first time,” Brown said.
The exhibit also explores the crucial role Vuillard’s patrons, dealers and muses played in his life and art. His supporters, most of whom were Jewish, provided artistic inspiration and financial support and he painted them in their environments.