Edouard Vuillard (1868–1940): Place Vintimille

Edouard Vuillard (1868–1940): Place Vintimille

“There are two occupations in me: the study of exterior perception, filled with painful experiences, dangerous for my humor and my nerves. And the study of pictorial decoration. . . which ought to give me the tranquility of a worker.”
— Edouard Vuillard, 1894

About the artist

Edouard Vuillard was born in 1868 in Cuiseaux, a tiny French town near the Swiss border. At age nine, he moved with his family to Paris. His father, a retired army officer, died several years later, leaving his mother, Marie, with three children and only a small income. She came from a family of textile designers, and to make a living she first operated a lingerie shop and then a dressmaking business from the succession of Paris apartments that the family occupied. Edouard lived with his mother, his greatest supporter for her entire life, surrounded by the women and fabrics that filled her workroom. In his paintings, he confined himself primarily to scenes of cozy, cluttered interiors, often using his mother and sister as models. His interior scenes are characterized by a lavish use of pattern—wallpaper, upholstery, and dress fabrics, closely juxtaposed to create an effect almost like collage.

In 1888 Vuillard studied briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Jean-Léon Gérôme, but disliked the conservative approach. Later that year he moved to the Académie Julian, where he met other young artists who rejected both academic art and Impressionism. Vuillard associated with this group, known as the Nabis. By the turn of the century he was making striking, large-scale decorative wall paintings and folding screens, and later, portraits of prosperous French families. While Vuillard’s art remained figurative, his intense focus on the picture surface itself—the flattened, sometimes unpainted support patterned with figures that blended with their surroundings—would foreshadow elements of abstraction in the 20th century.

About this work

Place Vintimille, 1908–10

In 1908 Vuillard and his mother moved into an apartment in the corner building at 16 rue de Calais, overlooking the Place Vintimille (known today as Place Adolphe Max). The small park, with its tall trees and statue of 19th-century composer Hector Berlioz, offered then as now an oasis of calm to strollers, tourists, playing children, and nannies. For the next 20 years Vuillard would draw, paint, and photograph this park from every angle and perspective.

This was the neighborhood where Vuillard had spent his youth and where many friends and fellow artists lived. The two panels in the Thannhauser collection form the outer views as seen from his fifth-floor apartment window, with each panel carefully depicting a different time of day, weather conditions, and specific details noted from the artist’s extensive observation. These two views of Place Vintimille are part of a larger group of four panels Vuillard worked on from 1908 to 1910, commissioned by the well-known playwright Henry Bernstein. They do not form a continuous whole, but rather capture different segments of the elliptical park. Although the statue of Berlioz now rests on a lower pedestal, the little park and the surrounding houses remain essentially intact.

View + Discuss

Edouard Vuillard (1868–1940)
Place Vintimille, 1908–10
Distemper on cardboard, mounted on canvas, two panels: 78 3/4 x 27 3/8 inches (200 x 69.5 cm) and 78 3/4 x 27 1/2 inches (200 x 69.85 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser, 2514.74

1. Describe what you see in these paintings. Where are we? When? How can you tell? What activities can you observe?

2. What season of the year appears to be depicted in these paintings? What day of the week and time of day might be pictured? Support your answers with specific observations from the paintings.

3. Provide a “weather report” that describes the atmospheric conditions that the people on the street are encountering. What clothing would you select to wear on a day such as this?

4. From what vantage point was the artist working while painting? How can you tell? How might Place Vintimille look today? Name the things that might have changed.

5. Why do you think Vuillard chose to paint so many panels of the same park?

6. How is this park similar to or different from your neighborhood park?

Art Explorations

Choose a place in your neighborhood that is special to you. Make a list of words that you associate with this place. What characteristics of it are important to you? Write a poem that captures the way you feel about this place.

In addition to his paintings and drawings, Vuillard took dozens of photographs of the park and used them as visual references. Choose a familiar place and photograph it over time, as the seasons change, at various times of the day, in changing weather conditions. Assemble all the pictures. Discuss how the changes in environment affect the mood of the photographs. Which do you prefer? Which seem most characteristic of the way you view this place?

With an audio recorder, develop a sound track to accompany these paintings that include all the sounds that are implied within the panels. Make a second recording that includes sounds from your local park. How do they differ? How are they similar?

Vuillard chose to work in the medium of distemper for several reasons. Although time-consuming to prepare, it provided a matte, opaque surface more pleasing to him than other types of paint. Can you name other instances when using a labor-intensive process is worth the time and effort because of the result? Set up a simple still life and draw or paint it in three different media. For instance, depict the same still life in watercolor, tempera, and pastel. How does this influence the impact of the work? Which medium do you prefer for this work? Why?

What is your favorite view looking out a window? What about this view appeals to you? Here is one way to capture that scene. Tape a piece of clear acetate (transparency film) over a window. With a black Sharpie marker trace the edges of the view you see out the window. Be sure to close one eye and do not move your head while you are drawing. When you are finished remove your drawing from the window and place it on top of a sheet of white paper. Continue to embellish the drawing you have made by adding details and color.

Additional Resources

Cogeval, Guy. Edouard Vuillard, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and National Gallery of Art, Washington, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003.

Rewald, Sabine, “Vuillard’s Unlikely Obsession: Revisiting Place Vintmille,” Art in America, July 2001, p. 70–79.

National Gallery of Art

Vocabulary

ABSTRACTION The essential form of an object; a process in which the artist focuses on and exaggerates the forms of objects for aesthetic and
expressive purposes.

LES NABIS (ca. 1888) A group of painters who took their name from the Hebrew word for prophet. The Nabis believed that what mattered most was not to depict things but to evoke impressions and feeling. In addition to painting, they made illustrations, posters, and political caricatures focusing on Parisian life. 

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