Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For This Artist, Small Was Beautiful ; the National Gallery of Art Has Mounted a Major Exhibition of French Painter Edouard Vuillard. Never Heard of Him? You Will Soon

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For This Artist, Small Was Beautiful ; the National Gallery of Art Has Mounted a Major Exhibition of French Painter Edouard Vuillard. Never Heard of Him? You Will Soon

Article excerpt

The image of the French painter Edouard Vuillard in the minds of most Americans is about as vague as a fog-bound Impressionist landscape.

Those who are familiar with his works might affix a few adjectives to his style, such as "dreamlike" or "melting." Vuillard (1868-1940) has been considered minor in the canon of French painting, his works categorized as small but beautiful. But few are able to relate a particular painting to his name or recall, really, why he deserves attention.

The work of this marginal artist is now being brought into clearer focus for Americans through a major exhibition - the most comprehensive ever mounted of Vuillard's work - at The National Gallery of Art in Washington.

"Edouard Vuillard," which opened earlier this week and travels to Montreal, Paris, and London, brings together more than 200 paintings and decorative works, some never seen by the public before. The works of this reclusive Post-Impressionist are revealing.

"This exhibition will put Vuillard on the map," says Gloria Groom, a curator of European painting at The Art Institute of Chicago, who has written a book on Vuillard. "It may turn the tide for him."

Painting people that he loved

Many scholars agree that it's time for Vuillard's extraordinary landscapes and portraits to be more widely appreciated.

"When people come to see this show," says Kimberly Jones, a curator at The National Gallery, "they'll see works as daring and provocative as Monet, as sumptuous and elegant as Renoir, and as sophisticated as Degas."

What Vuillard really painted was the atmosphere of the memory of the people and places he loved.

Although strongly influenced by the Impressionists, whose work was derived directly from plein-air observation of the subject, Vuillard, as a Post-Impressionist, transfigured his subject-matter in a style termed Synthetism.

In Vuillard's small domestic interiors of the 1890s, many of which are on view in this retrospective, the artist's imagination transformed the mundane reality of Parisian middle-class life into visions of dream-like beauty.

A brilliant color-sense within a muted palette, uncanny juxtapositions of patterns within an interior scene, and the ability to create the eerie mood of memory are a few of the qualities that define Vuillard.

"People recognize his style - pattern-on-pattern paintings where the people are dissolving into the wallpaper," says Ms. Groom.

Vuillard was an artist who certainly painted what he knew. He was raised in the home studio of his widowed mother's garment workshop, so it was natural that he would develop an appreciation for patterns of fabric and the aesthetic magic they can create.

Mother as his muse

The majority of his early compositions are of family members or the seamstresses who worked for his mother.

Unusually in the history of art, it is Vuillard's mother who was the main support and inspiration in the artist's life. …

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