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Édouard Vuillard (French painter) 1868 - 1940

Jean-Édouard Vuillard was a French painter, decorative artist and printmaker. From 1891 through 1900, he was a prominent member of the Nabis, making paintings which assembled areas of pure color, and interior scenes, influenced by Japanese prints, where the subjects were blended into colors and patterns. He also was a decorative artist, painting theater sets, panels for interior decoration, and designing plates and stained glass. After 1900, when the Nabis broke up, he adopted a more realistic style, painting landscapes and interiors with lavish detail and vivid colors. In the 1920s and 1930s he painted portraits of prominent figures in French industry and the arts in their familiar settings. Jean-Édouard Vuillard was born on 11 November 1868 in Cuiseaux (Saône-et-Loire), where he spent his youth. Vuillard's father was a retired captain of the naval infantry, who after leaving the military became a tax collector. His father was 27 years older than his mother, Marie Vuillard (née Michaud), who was a seamstress. In 1877, after his father's retirement, the family settled in Paris at 18 rue de Chabrol, then moved to Rue Daunou, in a building where his mother had a sewing workshop. Vuillard entered a school run by the Marist Brothers. He was awarded a scholarship to attend the prestigious Lycée Fontaine, which in 1883 became the Lycée Condorcet.[5] Vuillard studied rhetoric and art, making drawings of works by Michelangelo and classical sculptures. At the Lycée he met several of the future Nabis, including Ker-Xavier Roussel (Vuillard's future brother in law), Maurice Denis, writer Pierre Véber, and the future actor and theater director Aurélien Lugné-Poe. In November 1885, when he left the Lycée, he gave up his original idea of following his father in a military career, and set out to become an artist. He joined Roussel at the studio of painter Diogène Maillart, in the former studio of Eugène Delacroix on Place Fürstenberg. There, Roussel and Vuillard learned the rudiments of painting. In 1885 he took courses at the Académie Julian, and frequented the studios of the prominent and fashionable painters William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Robert-Fleury. However, he failed in the competitions to enter the École des Beaux-Arts in February and July 1886 and again in February 1887. In July 1887, the persistent Vuillard was accepted, and was placed in the course of Robert-Fleury, then in 1888 with the academic history painter Jean-Léon Gérôme. In 1888 and 1889, he pursued his studies in academic art. He painted a self-portrait with his friend Waroquoy, and had a crayon portrait of his grandmother accepted for the Salon of 1889. At the end of that academic year, and after a brief period of military service, he set out to become an artist. Late in 1889 he began to frequent the meetings the informal group of artists known as Les Nabis, or The prophets, a semi-secret, semi-mystical club which included Maurice Denis and some of his other friends from the Lycée. In 1888 the young painter Paul Serusier had traveled to Brittany, where, under the direction of Paul Gauguin, he had made a nearly abstract painting of the seaport, composed of areas of color. This became The talisman, the first Nabi painting. Serusier and his friend Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis and Paul Ranson, were among the first Nabis of nabiim, dedicated to transforming art down to its foundations. In 1890, through Denis, Vuillard became a member of the group, which met in Ransom's studio or in the cafes of the Passage Brady. The existence of the organization was in theory secret, and members used coded nicknames; Vuillard became the Nabi Zouave, because of his military service. He first began working on theater decoration. He shared a studio at 28 Rue Pigalle with Bonnard with the theater impresario Lugné-Poe, and the theater critic Georges Rousel. He designed sets for several works by Maeterlinck and other symbolist writers. In 1891 he took part in his first exposition with the Nabis at the Chateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. He showed two paintings, including The Woman in a Striped Dress (see gallery below). The reviews were largely good, but the critic of Le Chat Noir wrote of "Works still indecisive, where one finds the features in style, literary shadows, sometimes a tender harmony." (September 19, 1891). Vuillard began keeping a journal during this time, which records the formation of his artistic philosophy. "We perceive nature through the senses which give us images of forms, sounds, colors, etc." he wrote on 22 November 1888, shortly before he became a Nabi. "A form or a color exists only in relation to another. Form does not exist on its own. We can only conceive of the relations." In 1890 he returned to the same idea: "Let's look at a painting as a set of relations that are definitely detached from any idea of naturalism." The Nabis went their separate ways after their exposition in 1900. They had always had different styles, though they shared common ideas and ideals about art. The separation was made deeper by the Dreyfus Affair (1894–1908), which split French society. Dreyfus was a Jewish French army officer accused falsely of treason, and sentenced to a penal colony, before finally being exonerated. Among the Nabis, Vuillard and Bonnard supported Dreyfus, while Maurice Denis and Sérusier supported the side of the French army. After the separation of the Nabis in 1900, the style and subjects of Vuillard changed. He had formerly been, with the Nabis, in the vanguard of the avant-garde. Now he gradually abandoned the close, crowded and dark interiors he had painted before 1900, and began to paint more outdoors, with natural light. He continued to paint interiors, but the interiors had more light and color, more depth, and the faces and features were clearer. The effects of the light became primary components of his paintings, whether they were interior scenes or the parks and streets of Paris. He gradually returned to naturalism. He held his second large personal exhibition at the Gallerie Bernheim-Jeune in November 1908, where he presented many of his new landscapes. He was praised by one anti-modernist critic for "his delicious protest against systematic deformations." In 1912, Vuillard, Bonnard and Roussel were nominated for the Legion d'Honneur, but all three refused the honor. "I do not seek any other compensation for my efforts than the esteem of people with taste," he told a journalist. In 1912, Vuillard painted Théodore Duret in his Study, a commissioned portrait that signaled a new phase in Vuillard's work, which was dominated by portraiture from 1920 onwards. Vuillard served as a juror with Florence Meyer Blumenthal in awarding the Prix Blumenthal, a grant given between 1919–1954 to young French painters, sculptors, decorators, engravers, writers, and musicians. Following the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Vuillard was briefly mobilized for military duty as a highway guard. He was soon released from this duty, and returned to painting. He visited the armaments factory of his patron, Thadée Natanson, near Lyon, and later made a series of three paintings of the factories at work. He served briefly, from 2 February to 22 February, as an official artist to the French armies in the region of the Vosges, making a series of pastels. These included a sympathetic sketch of a captured German prisoner being interrogated. In August 1917, back in Paris, he received a commission from the architect Francis Jourdain for a mural for a fashionable Paris café, Le Grand Teddy. In 1921 he received an important commission for decorative panels for the art patron Camille Bauer, for his residence in Basel, Switzerland. Vuillard completed a series of four panels, plus two over-the-door paintings, which were finished by 1922. He passed his summers each year from 1917 to 1924 at Vaucresson, at a house he rented with his mother. He also made a series of landscape paintings of the area. Between 1930 and 1935 he divided his time between Paris and the Chateau de Clayes, owned by his friend Hessel. He did not receive any official recognition from the French state until July 1936, when he was commissioned to make a mural, La Comédie, depicting his impressions of the history of Paris theater world for the foyer of the new Théâtre national de Chaillot, built for the 1937 Paris International Exposition. In August of the same year, the City of Paris bought four of paintings, Anabatistes, and a collection of sketches. In 1937 he received another major commission, along with Maurice Denis and Roussel, for a monumental mural at the Palace of the League of Nations in Geneva. In 1938, he received more official recognition. He was elected in February 1938 to the Académie des Beaux Arts, and in July 1938 the Musée des Arts Decoratifs presented a major retrospective of his paintings. Later in the year he traveled to Geneva to oversee the installation of his mural Peace, Protector of the Arts at the League of Nations Building. In 1940, he completed his last two portraits. He suffered from pulmonary difficulties, and traveled to La Baule in Loire-Atlantique to restore his health. He died there on 21 June 1940, the same month that the French army was defeated by the Germans in the Battle of France. Vuillard was unmarried, but his personal life and his work were greatly influenced by his women friends. In the late 1890s he began a long relationship with Misia Natanson, the wife of his important patron, Thadée Natanson. Natanson had married her in April 1893, when she was sixteen years old. She appears in the Public Gardens. He helped her decorate the Natanson's apartment, painted her often in his decorative panels, and regularly accompanied her and her husband to their country house. In 1900 Vuillard met Lucy Hessel, wife of a Swiss art dealer, who became his new muse, traveling with him each year to Normandy in July, August and September, and giving him advice. She remained with him, despite many rivals and many dramatic scenes, until the end of his life. In addition to Misia and Lucy, he also had a long relationship with the actress Lucie Belin, for whom he arranged a pension when she fell ill in the 1920s. 

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