What is the first emotion rushing to your heart when you see a Edouard Vuillard painting? What would be the phrases describing him in your mind: joyful, hazy, calm, elite and mesmerizing? Maybe his paintings remind you both Van Gogh and Monet. As a post-impressionist it is crystal-clear fact that impressionist impact has on him and it gives the hazy atmosphere to his paintings. However, just like one common element can be seen as thick contour use in both Van Gogh’s and Vuillard’s paintings; they may share one more common feature: the paintings of Vuillard also hide melancholy just like Van Gogh’s. When we regard that Edouard Vuillard was also a member of Les Nabis we can intuit the symbolism giving that sadness hidden under his canvases. Between these two approaches to the painting, Vuillard formed his own language to depict the scenery with colors and contours blending blues with sunny leisure times.
From the Gardens of Paris to the Calmness of Countryside Houses
Edouard Vuillard was a French artist and decorator who lived in France in the Belle Epoque . Therefore elegant blaze in Vuillard’s artistic style can be traced with shiny, mostly yellow color palette. The most highlighted elements of his style are depicting interior spaces, the importance he gave textures, patterns, furniture and spirit of domestic spaces, leisure and slow pace of daily life, reflection of the calm and the warm atmosphere of a home. In the sense of choosing subject matters, Vuillard is close to impressionists; however, he is close to symbolists in terms of handling these subject matters.
He was a painter who has the eye of an interior designer. In his paintings he had given enormous importance to depict domestic spaces and daily life. While he was depicting these spaces, he put the decorative elements forward. He both painted portraits and landscapes. However, especially his portraits emphasize the inner place of the intimate and the personal one. In his landscapes Vuillard takes you an enchanted promenade in the parks or the gardens of Paris with his bright color palette. In his domestic space paintings on the other hand, he invites you a country-side or a Parisian house by giving the sensation of the moment.
Vuillard’s Muse: Lucy Hessel
Vuillard mostly made his paintings for his patrons, as well as himself. He also had three muses in his life as his mother, Misia Sert and Lucy Hessel. He primarily found his muse depicting the house of hi mother. He also used his mother as a model. Then in his advancing ages, two muses came into being as the wives of his two patrons. However, the place of Lucy Hessel was a little bit different. Their relationship was very sentimental. She sat for him numerous times as a model. He made many portraits of her in her own domestic spaces like in her dressing room. Their lifelong friendship and the deep, intimate connection between them can be pursued throughout his paintings like a low rise music coming from capturing the moment.
The Melancholy Behind the Patterns
Although in his paintings the decorative style of classy French houses has dominant influence, a reminiscent of melancholy can be detected, as well. On the other hand, it seems like he also uses his models like figurants to emphasize the colors and the patterns in his domestic paintings. He once said that “I don’t make portraits; I paint people in their homes.” In this quote, the main desire in his art is very clear. However between the lines in his paintings maybe he was also making a reflection of the self and the aim of each inner space decorative detail is the metaphor of the self. Therefore, his intimate paintings can be read as the reflection of the intimate self, as well.
To understand that more clearly we need to look close up his models, sometimes are lost by becoming a part of textures and decoration while sometimes depicting at the foreground. The first thing we can see is the blurriness that dominates the spirit of the painting but especially the faces of his models. Even if we know she was his beloved Lucy Hessel, she seems like she melts with the decorative elements and her blurry face creates question marks in our heads.
This way of portraying the models’ faces was very different and in one sense unique to Vulliard’s style. However, it also creates a mysterious atmosphere with melancholy. In that sense Vuillard both reflects the post-impressionist and symbolist approach to his paintings. While he reveals his figures with the hazy post-impressionist brushstrokes, he also wraps them with blurry symbolist melancholy reflecting the inner space of the self. The fact remains that beyond doubt Vulliard reflects the vibration of life by focusing the decorative elements in his interior space paintings with his striking but sensual color harmony and his texture-pattern sensitivity.
Cover image: Table with a Large Lampshade (La table au grand abat-jour) by Edouard Vuillard