The hazy, lilac blue of WISTERIA linen seeped into the artworks of the late 19th century Symbolist era, casting diffused light that suggests the silent land of dreams. French painter Edouard Vuillard was part of this group; his quiet, intimite scenes were often cast with heather, blue and lavender tones, lending them a hushed air of poetic mystery. A sensitive observer of daily life, Vuillard transformed the textures and patterns he saw around him into harmonious flattened designs that play out with pulsing rhythm across his canvases and just brush the edges of abstraction. “There is not art without poetic aim,” he wrote, “There is an effect that results from a certain arrangements of colours, of lights, of shadows. It is this that one calls the music of painting.”
Born in Cuiseaux, France, in 1868, Vuillard’s family later moved to Paris, where they lived out a modest life. The artist’s father died when he was fifteen and his studious mother, Madame Marie Vuillard developed a corset and dressmaking business from home to support herself. Breaking his family connections to the army, Vuillard entered the Academie Julian in 1886, where he befriended the painter Pierre Bonnard and the pair shared a studio. On his third attempt Vuillard gained a place at Paris’ prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts, and it was here that he first began studying still life and domestic interior subjects. He also joined ranks with a group of fellow students who called themselves Les Nabis, led by painter Paul Serusier, who encouraged members to follow a Symbolist language, focussing on simplified designs and the emotional properties of colour, which could transform real world objects into the realms of memories and imagination.
Like many of his contemporaries, the lyrical, flattened designs of Japanese prints had a lasting influence on Vuillard’s designs, which were often composed from fragments of floral motifs, as seen in Le Pot de fleurs (Pot of Flowers), 1900, in which hastily arranged objects seem to fall into one another amidst bluish, purple bruised light. Made the same year, Vuillard’s decadently patterned Misia in a Chaise Longue, 1900 contrasts cold pastel tones with caramel and chocolate browns, while columns of chambray blend into periwinkle blue, becoming points of calm tranquillity to rest the eye.
Vuillard’s scenes became more complex with a greater sense of depth in his later career, as seen in the deliciously complex Marcelle Aron (Madame Tristan Bernard), 1914, which combines real space with mirrored reflections that double the room. Colour harmonies are carefully arranged here to further a sense of space, as cool, pastel tones of lilac and periwinkle blue blend gently into the bands of the background, just catching fragments of softened sunlight. In the foreground warm cadmium yellows contrast sharply and suggest the warm, golden glow of electric light inside.
Vuillard spent most of his adult life living with his mother in Paris, until she died in 1928. Her presence was felt through much of his art; she often appeared as a conscientious figure determinedly engaged in sewing, or fragments of the intricate fabrics that filled their apartment became subjects in their own right. In Madame Vuillard Sewing, 1920, Marie Vuillard is a symbol of quiet determination, basked in cold, pastel light that almost melts her into the surrounding room as she loses herself in the act of making. The vivid blue of her clothing fades and ripples in small echoes across the muted room, delicately contrasting with a limited hue of biscuit and butter tones, transforming an ordinary scene of isolated domesticity into a place where magic silently happens.