Félix Vallotton and his wife Gabrielle spent the summer of 1900 in the chateau of La Naz in Romanel, overlooking Lausanne. The views over the lake, the Vaud countryside, and the Jura mountains opened up a rich seam of creativity, as did the presence of Édouard Vuillard, who came to visit and paint with him for two weeks in August.
Vallotton had not painted any landscapes since 1897, devoting his last visits to Étretat to genre scenes. In Romanel, he began experimenting with the Nabi formula, previously applied to portraits, nudes, and genre scenes. He worked with very short, horizontal brush strokes to lay down broad swathes of colour, before turning to the secondary features and, finally, the contours such as the yellow line ringing the cloud.
Vallotton twice used the expression ‘decorative landscape’ to describe two works based on studies dating from his time in Romanel. The sites are almost always identifiable – this painting is framed from the hill overlooking the chateau of La Naz, looking south-west – but are also simplified to a certain extent. Here, the artist pays little heed to depth of field, unfurling the natural features across the surface of the painting in parallel waves. The shapes are clearly delineated and the lines sinuous. The ornamental approach is heightened by the use of juxtaposed broad swathes of colour that exaggerate or, conversely, downplay shadows. The horizontal format also gestures to Japanese prints.
Le grand nuage (The Great Cloud) was shown at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris in 1903 alongside works by Vuillard. Like all Vallotton’s Romanel period paintings, it is a major stepping stone towards his mature landscapes.
Marina Ducrey, with the collaboration of Katia Poletti, Félix Vallotton, 1865-1925: l’œuvre peint, 3 vol., Lausanne, Fondation Félix Vallotton, Zurich, Institut suisse pour l’étude de l’art, Milan, 5 Continents Éditions, 2005, n. 299.
Claire Frèches-Thory, Ursula Perucchi-Petri et alii, Nabis 1888-1900 : Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Henri-Gabriel Ibels…, exh. cat. Zurich, Kunsthaus, Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, RMN, 1993.
Sasha M. Newman (ed.), Félix Vallotton, exh. cat. Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Paris, Flammarion, 1992.