Guy Cogeval, Isabelle Cahn et alii, Félix Vallotton. Le feu sous la glace, exh. cat. Paris, Grand Palais, Paris, RMN – Grand Palais, 2013, n° 11.
Claire Garnier et Laurent Le Bon (eds.), 1917, exh. cat. Metz, Centre Pompidou-Metz, 2012.
Marina Ducrey, avec la collaboration de 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 Editions, 2005, n° 1157.
Félix Vallotton was too old to join up in the First World War, choosing instead to explore a burning question for all artists of the day: how to paint warfare. He tried a number of approaches. As early as August 1916, his landscapes contain studies sketching out action on the battlefield. After visiting the devastated Champagne region in June 1917, he produced a series of paintings that culminated in Verdun (1917, Paris, Musée de l’armée), a masterful attempt to capture the horrors of war in abstract form. In painting the human form, Vallotton turned to allegory in the vast triptych Le crime châtié (Crime punished), 1915, also in the museum collection). Alongside this he worked on bathing women and heroines from mythology as a means of exploring the future fate of France and critiquing its subjection.
Quatre torses [Four torsos] is one of Vallotton’s “war nudes”. It is the first in a series of three “canvases with studies of forms” which he worked on in 1918 and 1919. He saw them as standalone works of art rather than simple studies, signing them and displaying them in Paris. Two of the paintings show nude women framed from mid-thigh up, their faces hidden by their folded arms, wringing their hands in despair. This work is an even more radical statement. The tight frame removes the heads and turns the women into mere trunks. They overlap and dovetail strangely, forming a jigsaw that might be the result of several studies of the same woman. The sickly tints of the pink, green, and grey flesh hint at decomposition, gesturing to the tradition of Théodore Géricault’s “anatomical pieces”.