WORKS FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION, SOLD IN PART TO BENEFIT TWO NOT-FOR-PROFIT INSTITUTIONS IN THE FIELDS OF SCIENCE AND MUSIC
The present work finds Madame Marie Vuillard, the artist’s mother and muse, diligently at work on her sewing in their shared apartment in the suburban town of Vaucresson, just west of Paris. An inimitable figure in Vuillard’s life and work, Madame Vuillard lived alongside the artist until her death in 1928, and appeared in more than five-hundred paintings over the course of her son’s artistic career.
In 1878, Madame Vuillard acquired a corsetry and dressmaking business which she directed—primarily out of her home—until her retirement twenty years later. Coming of age in a working household had a profound effect on Vuillard’s artistic practice and subject matter, with sewing scenes appearing in his paintings as early as the 1890s (see fig. 1).
As mother and son relocated throughout Paris and the neighboring towns, the two transformed their rented apartments into dynamic spaces which functioned both as studios and living quarters, providing Vuillard with ready subject matter for his domestic scenes. Vuillard’s mother was an integral part of his creative practice, not only as a model for his paintings, but also as an artist’s assistant. Madame Vuillard routinely helped develop the film from her son’s beloved handheld Kodak. Much like his observational paintings, Vuillard’s photographs document candid moments in the life of the same stalwart woman, who is often seen with a slight smile as she reads, sews or sits at the table.
Here, Vuillard depicts his mother at one with her surroundings, very much a part of the tapestry of the room. A rare large-scale interior scene, Madame Vuillard cousant à la Closerie des Genêts retains all the intimacy and warmth of Vuillard’s earlier small-format works. Compressing the spatial planes of the scene, Vuillard brings all elements of the work to the fore, in a sense identifying his mother with the space she inhabits. Known for the Intimist style of decorative painting pioneered with Bonnard, Vuillard frequently portrayed his friends and family in domestic settings, often placed amid myriad competing patterns. Abandoning perspective, Vuillard conveys depth through a clever placement of figures, employing the angular and abutting lines of the furniture in such a way as to denote their arrangement in the room. Luminous touches of cream and pink on her face, hands and sewing draw loving attention to his mother and her life’s work.
As was common practice for the artist, Vuillard here utilizes a glue-based distemper which lends a soft effect and chalky texture to his scenes. The Nabis exaltation of decorative artistry is underlined by Vuillard’s use of the hand-made medium, which was more traditionally used in the painting of walls and interiors. Rendered in the same warm tones as the piano, fireplace and wall paper behind her, Madame Vuillard sits tranquilly to the right of the frame, balanced at left by an exquisitely rendered floral tablecloth. The linen’s bold black contours find resonance in the outlines of Madame Vuillard’s bonnet and housecoat, the pattern’s definition standing in contrast to the softer rendering of the wallpaper motif. Though the hearth is obscured by the table, Vuillard’s color choice and close composition convey all the warmth of a cozy evening beside the fire.
The Vuillards’ seasonal stay in Vaucresson began in 1918, and was inspired by the artist’s dear friends Jos and Lucy Hessel who bought a villa there a year prior. Both the Hessels and their home featured in Vuillard's work for years to follow (see fig. 2). Jos, a partner of Bernheim-Jeune, became Vuillard's dealer in 1912 and acquired the present work in 1922 shortly after its completion. Mother and son would return frequently to the Closerie des Genêts for nearly a decade, affording the artist ample opportunity to record such intimate moments in the same apartment (see fig. 3).
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