Les Deux cousins
is a striking example of Vuillard’s fascination with domestic interiors. Composition was one of the artist’s major concerns and—along with tonal gradation—allowed him to create novel ways to reinterpret familiar scenes. As discussed by Elizabeth Wynne Easton, the interior “was also the locus of the home industry, a place where Vuillard observed the quiet dignity of labor and its characteristic gestures. But it was family life, confined within these ever-present walls, that aroused [the artist’s] most powerful emotions. His interiors function as theaters within which the family enacted the consuming drama of everyday experience” (quoted in The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard
(exhibition catalogue), Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1990, p. 4).Les Deux cousins
is an exploration of intimacy, here between cousins Lucy Hessel and Marcelle Aron, repeated subjects in Vuillard’s oeuvre. The present work is a preparatory sketch for another work of the same subject and name, with this pastel executed with greater tonal variety, thereby better conveying the Nabis aesthetic. Spatial uncertainty and the artist’s dazzling touches of color allow the viewer to fully immerse in the Nabis’ concept of conferring meaning beyond the visual, drawing us closer to the “new spirit and sensibility in things and places that are familiar” (ibid.
, p. 35). By employing his signature blurring of faces and positioning the women inwardly away from the viewer, Vuillard makes the focal point of the drawing the fabrics and colors that situate the women in their interior. In so doing, Vuillard echoes Dutch master Johannes Vermeer in composition, subject matter, and the effects of light upon time suspended. Contrary to Vermeer, however, Vuillard captures the hazy experience of distinguishing forms from patterns to underscore his medium and flattening of forms.
Vuillard’s meticulous interest and reinterpretation of interiors likely appealed to former owner Mrs. Ellen Long, founder of Ellen L. McCluskey Associates, a New York design company. Mrs. Long was an internationally known interior decorator, whose decorating credits included the Regency Hotel and the lobbies and grand ballrooms of the Plaza and Waldorf-Astoria Hotels in New York.