Lot 9
  • 9

Edouard Vuillard

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Edouard Vuillard
  • stamped E Vuillard (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 47.5 by 57.5cm.
  • 18 3/4 by 22 5/8 in.


Wildenstein & Co., New York
J. Roussel, Paris (acquired by 1951)
Mr & Mrs Ira Haupt, New York (acquired by 1954)
Doris Warner Vidor, New York (acquired by 1964)
Richard L. Feigen Gallery, New York (acquired by 1983)
Private Collection (acquired from the above. Sold: Christie's, London, 4th February 2009, lot 9)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Bern, Kunsthalle, Edouard Vuillard, Alexander Müllegg, 1946, no. 19 (titled La couture)
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Vuillard (1868-1940), 1946, no. 36, illustrated in the catalogue (titled La couture)
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, Pierre Bonnard & Edouard Vuillard, 1948, no. 63 (as dating from 1892)
London, Wildenstein & Co., Edouard Vuillard, 1948, no. 11 (as dating from 1892)
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Vuillard, 1948, no. 16
Basel, Kunsthalle, Edouard Vuillard, Charles Hug, 1949, no. 16 (as dating from circa 1898)
Albi, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Toulouse Lautrec, ses amis et ses maîtres, 1951, no. 337
Bern, Kunsthalle, Die Maler der Revue Blanche, Toulouse Lautrec und die Nabis, 1951, no. 164
Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art & New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Edouard Vuillard, 1954, illustrated in the catalogue, (as dating from 1891)
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art & Baltimore, Museum of Art, Art Nouveau, Art and Design at the Turn of the Century, 1960-61, no. 299 (as dating from 1891)
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Vuillard, 1964, no. 4, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1891)
New York, Christie's, Van Gogh, Gauguin and their Circle, 1968, no. 31, illustrated in the catalogue
Lausanne, Fondation de L'Hermitage, De Cézanne à Picasso dans la collections Romandes, 1985, no. 39, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts; Washington D.C., The Phillips Collection & New York, The Brooklyn Museum, The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard, 1989-90, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from 1891)
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Barcelona, Fundacion Caja de Pensiones & Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Vuillard, 1990-91, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Washington, National Gallery of Art; Montreal, Musée des beaux-arts; Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais & London, Royal Academy of Arts, Edouard Vuillard, 2004, no. 12, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
London, The National Gallery (on loan 2007-2008)


Denys Sutton, 'Edouard Vuillard, 1868-1940', in Maanblad voor Beeldende Kunsten, vol. 24, October 1948, illustrated p. 47
André Chastel, 'Vuillard', in Art News Annual, vol. 23, 1954, illustrated in colour p. 39
Melvin Waldfogel, 'Bonnard and Vuillard as Lithographers', in Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin, vol. 52, September 1963, illustrated fig. 8
Stuart Preston, Edouard Vuillard, New York, 1971, illustrated fig. 21
Belinda Thomson, Vuillard, Oxford, 1988, illustrated in colour pl. 17 (titled Sewing)
Michel Makarius, Vuillard, Paris, 1989, illustrated in colour p. 64 (as dating from 1891)
Claire Frèches-Thory & Antoine Terrasse, Les Nabis, Paris, 1990, illustrated p. 75 (as dating from 1892)
Un hommage à Edouard Vuillard (exhibition catalogue), Maison Lapillonne, Cuiseaux, 1990, illustrated p. 18
Vuillard (exhibtion catalogue), Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons, 1990, illustrated in colour p. 168
Antoine Terrasse, Pont-Aven. L'Ecole buissonnière, Paris, 1992, illustrated in colour p. 107 (as dating from 1892)
Caroline Boyle-Turner, Les Nabis, Lausanne, 1993, illustrated in colour pp. 38-39
Guy Cogeval, Vuillard. Le temps détourné, Paris, 1993, illustrated in colour p. 57
Arthur Ellridge, Gauguin et les Nabis, Paris, 1993, illustrated in colour p. 100
Antoine Salomon & Guy Cogeval, Vuillard: The inexhaustible Glance, Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, Paris, 2003, vol. I, no. II-104, illustrated in colour p. 131


The canvas is unlined. Apart from a few scattered spots of retouching on the upper edge, including a tiny spot in the ear of the central figure, visible under ultra-violet light, this work is in very good condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although the reds and greens are slightly more luminous in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Recognised as one of Vuillard's foremost masterworks, Les Couturières, painted in 1890, presents a central theme for the artist with a boldly modern formalism. Vuillard painted this work at the creative genesis of his involvement with the Nabis painters whom he met the previous year at the Académie Julien in Paris. Relying upon the example of Gauguin, these artists eschewed customary representation in painting and discovered a new pictorial language. Among them, Vuillard and Bonnard were distinguished by their turn introspection, while painters such as Paul Sérusier, Maurice Denis and Emile Bernard elected for a broader scope. Vuillard in particular preferred the rich ambiguities contained in the domestic space and the current work is an eloquent hommage to this subject's force. The synthetism that had permeated the Pont Aven paintings of Gauguin finds new vivacity in this composition while the intimacy of its expression is wholly unique to Vuillard's artistic concerns.

The figures in Les Couturières are probably the artist's mother and sister - constant muses for the artist, particularly during his Nabis period. Antoine Salomon and Guy Cogeval write of the present work; 'The picture clearly depicts Madame Vuillard and Marie, seen in a convex plane of vision very similar to that used in Gauguin's cult painting [La Vision après le sermon, 1888, (fig. 2)]... In two previously unpublished drawings, Marie's face is delicately sketched in smooth, flowing lines that speak volumes about the progress Vuillard had made during 1890, since the painting can safely be dated to the autumn of that year. Relying, in his preparatory sketches, on an observation of reality that owes as much to Rembrandt as to Le Sueur, and adopting a deliberately traditional style of drawing, Vuillard suddenly opts for a dogmatic Synthetism when he sets about painting the canvas... It is a particularly powerful image of submission to duty and to the sacred rhythms of sewing, rendered in an impeccably Synthetist style' (A. Salomon & G. Cogeval, op. cit., pp. 130-32).

Vuillard's predilection for domestic interiors finds a clear lineage in the works of the Dutch and French Old Masters. On his visits to the Louvre, the artist would have seen masterpieces by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin and Johannes Vermeer (fig. 3). Vuillard would seek a similar intimacy in his domestic scenes from the 1890s though he would use entirely different means. Breaking away from the naturalist precision of these masters, Vuillard sought a Symbolist interpretation that would infer rather than describe.

Elizabeth Wynne Easton suggests that the Symbolist literature published at the time was a significant influence in this regard, and particularly for the artist's series of seamstress portraits: 'In fact, these paintings of women sewing constitute a visual demonstration of Stéphane Mallarmé's notion that one must express the effect something produces rather than the thing itself: "To name an object is to suppress three-fourths of the enjoyment... to suggest it, that is the dream."... Although he blurred the individuality of his subjects in these works, Vuillard always rooted his Symbolist sensibility in the familiar...' (E. W. Easton in The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard (exhibition catalogue),  op. cit., pp. 34-35).

Guillermo Solana, likewise invoking Symbolist literature in the form of André Gide's seminal work Les Cahiers d'André Walter, points out that the domestic space presented an opacity which both attracted and obfuscated the artist's comprehension. He writes, '...this focus on the interior is not an exaltation of comfort, of the predicted order, of domestic routine. For the artist, the bourgeois interior is the least familiar and strangest domain, a jungle that needs to be explored. "I had the feeling" André Gide wrote in Les Cahiers d'André Walter, "of seeing only half the things. I believed that the others had been initiated into rituals that they hid from me because I was too young. When I entered, conversations would cease in my presence: at times I came across signs that I was the only one who did not understand, and sometimes when I went to bed, I suspected that mysterious things happened while I was sleeping." Vuillard's interiors also suggest  these sensations: low-voiced conversations, stifled complaints, murmurings, a feeling of the unsaid and the secret all around' (G. Solana, 'The Faun Awakes: Gauguin and the Revival of the Pastoral', in Gauguin and the Origins of Symbolism (exhibition catalogue), Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid & Fundación Caja, Madrid, 2004-05, pp. 62-63).

The bold interlocking planes of colour, that characterises Les Couturières reflects Gauguin's example, whilst the intimate theme suggests the artist's debt to Degas (fig. 4). Vuillard would change to a muted palette by the mid-1890s and the Synthetist works of 1890 display a rare burst of unrestrained colour. The perspective from which we view these women is slightly raised, allowing for virtuosic foreshortening that is also particular to Synthetism. The vanguardism of Vuillard's approach will be echoed in Matisse's early Fauvist works which rely upon a similar boldness and autonomy of colour (fig. 5).  With its historical motif and formal eloquence, Les Couturières provides a rare glimpse into Vuillard's revolutionary work at the end of the 19th century and the extraordinary influence he provided to the avant-garde that followed.

Fig. 1, Edouard Vuillard, Autoportrait octogonal, circa 1890, Private Collection

Fig. 2, Paul Gauguin, La Vision après le sermon, 1888, oil on canvas, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

Fig. 3,  Johannes Vermeer, The Lacemaker, circa 1669-70, oil on canvas on panel, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Fig. 4, Edgar Degas, Chez la Modiste, circa 1898, pastel on paper, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Fig. 5, Henri Matisse, Bonheur de vivre, 1905-06, oil on canvas, Barnes Foundation, Pennsylvania