Cuiseaux, Saône-et-Loire 1868 – 1940 La Baule near Saint-Nazaire
Edouard Vuillard was born in Cuiseaux in 1868, the son of Honoré Vuillard, a Captain in the Marine Infantry, and his wife Marie Michaud, who came from a family of textile manufacturers. In 1877 the family moved to Paris, where Edouard attended the prestigious Lycée Condorcet, along with his friends and future artists Kerr-Xavier Roussel and Maurice Denis. He studied at the Académie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with Jean-Léon Gérôme, as well as making copies of paintings in the Louvre, particularly seventeenth century Dutch interiors and the still lifes of Chardin.
In 1889 Vuillard joined the Nabis (‘Prophets’), a group of artists including Paul Sérusier, Maurice Denis and Pierre Bonnard, who experimented with Synthetism, which prized memory rather than direct observation, simple blocks of colour and the deliberate focus on the two-dimensional picture plane. Throughout the 1890s Vuillard painted domestic scenes, frequently featuring his dressmaker sister and mother in their modest Parisian apartment. He used a dark palette, with emphasis on simplification and flat pattern-making influenced by Japanese prints. Vuillard was a keen theatre-goer and the mysterious relationships in these works reflect his exposure to the plays of Maeterlinck and Ibsen.
Vuillard was taken into the haut bourgeois world of Thadée Natanson, Editor-in-Chief of the Revue Blanche, and his flamboyant wife Misia. In 1894 he was commissioned by Thadée’s brother Alexandre Natanson to execute nine panels on the theme of Public gardens for his mansion in the Avenue du Bois (now scattered between the Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH; the Museum of Fine Art, Houston, TX and the Musée d’Art Moderne, Brussels). In 1900 Vuillard began exhibiting with Bernheim-Jeune. From 1901 until the First World War he spent summers in Normandy and Brittany with Jos Hessel, a partner in the firm, and his wife Lucy, who became Vuillard’s muse and mistress. Vuillard frequently depicted the interiors of the Hessels’ comfortable homes, still taking a delight in patterns and domestic minutiae, but employing a lighter palette and more three-dimensional space. The Hessels’ circle included actors and playwrights: in 1912 Vuillard received his first commission for a public building, decorations on Classical Comedy and Modern Comedy for the new Comédie des Champs-Elysées. He was also in demand as a portraitist of the beau monde, portraying his sitters within interiors that expressed their personalities or professions, for example the writer Théodore Duret in his study, 1912 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC).
Vuillard was a war artist in the First World War and painted two panels of assembly-line work at the Lazare-Lévy munitions factory (Musée d’Art Moderne, Troye), where Thadée Natanson was a Director. In 1937 his four portraits of his Nabi friends Roussel, Denis, Bonnard and Maillol were shown at the Exposition Internationale and bought by the City of Paris (Petit Palais, Paris). A final major project was the huge mural (in situ) for the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Vuillard was elected to the Institut de France in 1937 and a major retrospective of his work was held at the Pavillon de Marsan in Paris the following year. He fled Paris upon the Nazi invasion and died in La Baule near Saint-Nazaire on 21st June 1940.