an excerpt from a letter to a friend – my quick review of a Vuillard retrospective in Paris….

The show was really good. And as most Parisian art shows – well curated. I was surprised to see that it was in North America first – The National Gallery, Washington D.C., Montreal, then Paris and on to London’s Royal Academy in January.

The show was pretty big. It took up the full upstairs and downstairs of the East side of the Grand Palais. I was worried about a line for this event – as there usually are in big shows in Paris but I guess the rain held back a few people yesterday. Gauguin In Tahiti opens on the other side tomorrow. Definitely will need tickets for that. Would you like me to reserve some while you are here? Which day? 7th or 8th? And what time? If you are not interested, that’s OK; it will be here for a fairly long time…

I have always been a big fan of Vuillard’s – and Bonnard as well. In fact, this exhibition shows their influences upon one another and you will see Bonnard (among many other artist friends) in Vuillard’s personal photograph collection that is also part of the exhibit. Vuillard was quite a photographer and as the narrator in the audio guide explains, he would have been quite surprised that these photos were included in a retrospective of his work. These are not just family snapshots; they are carefully designed and composed photographs that are little jewels in themselves. He was using a Kodak camera. Although he lived until 1940, it is hard for me to imagine a figure such as Vuillard working with a brand name we are so familiar with today. The photos are in the old square format, a shape that I really like in photography despite all of the evils we learn of composing within a square in art class…

It is said that he did these photographs – not for painting studies or compositions but as a record of the features of these people whom he frequently painted.

You learn throughout the show of his avant-garde status and I imagined if he were alive today, he probably would be in the same light. Though I would see him as a carrying on as a performance artist. He was quite involved with avant-garde theater in the 1890’s and he designed many sets, and programs. In fact, he made quite a bit of money through his association with the theater. It is interesting to note that for a German production, he designed a slanting stage (he had difficulty convincing the actors on this) that would make the set more visible to the audience.

What I have always liked about his work is his strong use of pattern in his painting. Pattern juxtaposed with pattern and more pattern… These odd little domestic scenes are full of life because of the pattern and use of color. His association with the Nabis produced interesting simple compositions of bold color and some of these are hard to recognize as coming from the 1890’s. They are so simple design-wise – that they remind you of bold-colored wooden jigsaw puzzles for children. These had to be really shocking to the general public at the time. This must have had a strong influence on the Pop Art Movement in the Sixties, especially Andy Warhol’s portraits.

Vuillard created two thirds of his work after age forty. This was inspiration for me!

Portraits comprise most of his later work and you see that he is a master of it. But Vuillard is not so interested in his subjects as he is in his subject’s surroundings which make these different from the normal portrait work done at the time.

The catalogue for the exhibit is 60€. It is paperback, thick, full of color reproductions – and in French. I was going to buy it until I found a 99€ version in hardback, more reproductions but still an official catalogue of this particular show – and in English! An expensive book but a good one nonetheless….

OK, back to painting.

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