Madame Vuillard cousant, rue Truffaut (Madame Vuillard Sewing, Rue Truffaut), c. 1900
Painted on a small piece of cardboard, this work dates from towards the end of Édouard Vuillard’s Nabi period and shows the living room of the apartment-cum-studio he rented from 1899 to 1904 at 28 Rue Truffaut in Paris. The painter’s mother is shown sitting in a Louis XIII armchair upholstered with a fabric of broad brown and red stripes. Busy sewing (or dozing?), she is enjoying the warmth of the ray of sunlight entering the room through the window whose shutters and panes have been opened wide. Pictorially, the result is a sophisticated interplay between the areas lit by the sun, done in a fresh palette of whites, greens and yellows, and the shadowy areas, rendered in warm greys, browns and reds.
The paint is thin and matt, the brushwork swift and notational: small, juxtaposed touches allow the colour of the cardboard underneath to show through, while a dry brush has been used to draw in the paint. The fabrics (dress, lace curtains at the windows) contain the most vigorous contrasts: transparent and speckled with white where they are touched by the light, opaque and grey when in shadow.
‘No artist has known so well how to capture the soul of an interior’, said the critic Julius Meier-Graefe of Vuillard in 1904. Indeed, at the turn of the twentieth century, Vuillard, with his fellow Nabis, helped elevate the interior to the rank of a genre in its own right. His brushwork dissolves figures and objects in a rendering of form by colour that manifests a very personal sense of colours and close values, with a noted predilection for grey. Vuillard transposes his subject into a decorative mode, but just as clearly articulates the contours of space and suggests the temporal dimension by his evocation of an action. In this regard, his work heralds the decorative interiors of Henri Matisse, but also the still lifes of the cubists.
Antoine Salomon, Guy Cogeval and Mathias Chivot, Vuillard, le regard innombrable: catalogue critique des peintures et des pastels, vol. 2, Paris, 2003: 637, n. VII-181.
Guy Cogeval, Édouard Vuillard, exh. cat. Washington, National Gallery of Arts, Montréal, Musée des beaux-arts, Paris, Grand Palais, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2003.
Jean-Paul Monery and Jörg Zutter, Édouard Vuillard: la porte entrebâillée, exh. cat. Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Saint-Tropez, Musée de L’Annonciade, Milan, Skira, 2000: n. 43.