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Édouard Vuillard, painting from ‘one’s own innermost being’

February 2, 2015

My much loved aunt Evelyn died at the beginning of the month. I’ve written of her beautiful piano playing here.

I attended the funeral, and my cousin graciously offered me the now vacant apartment in London for my stay. My aunt and uncle owned 2 Vuillards which hung in the sun-filled living room. During the nearly 2 weeks I stayed at the flat helping go through my aunt’s things, I was able to be in the presence of these two paintings in all lights, and to study their surfaces closely – without a museum guard jumping up to tell me I was too close!

One of the Vuillards hanging in my aunt's flat

One of the Vuillards hanging in my aunt’s flat

In a sad time, they gave me much joy. I read up on Vuillard while I was there and learned that he lived from about 1860 to 1940 and was a member of the Nabis or ‘prophets’. These artists, among them, Maurice Denis and Pierre Bonnard, were post-Impressionists, exploring new approaches to painting. They felt the Impressionists were too slavish to creating  paintings to ‘charm the senses’. Additionally, the Nabi painters were striving to break through the restrictions of copying nature and were looking for ways to use more fantasy in their work.

Reading about Vuillard’s work and life gave me a lot of courage in my own journey as a painter. He and his contemporaries were dealing with similar dilemmas we modern artists confront. For example, Vuillard’s instinct was to paint intimate scenes on small canvases, while his contemporaries were striving to create grand works taking years to complete. Equally important was that in the late 1890s, the current idea was that large mural decoration was a higher form of art than easel painting!

So what I love about Vuillard is how he quietly went his own way despite considerable pressure from his friends, his group and the times he was living in. He admits in his letters that it was a struggle to keep to his own path, but he did.

After an inner crisis about his life and work, which was described as a conflict between his intellect and his artist’s sensitivity, and which was ongoing,  he writes,

‘The only guide left to me was instinct, pleasure, satisfaction; the area in which I was quite certain of anything got smaller and smaller, all I could do was the simplest possible kind of work.’

‘The important thing was that I had a basis on which to go on painting pictures, this work brought results. It allowed me to put one or two ideas together in ways that didn’t too much violate my conviction that everything must be summoned forth from one’s own innermost being’.

-quoted from ‘Vuillard’, John Russell, Thames and Hudson, London 1971

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5 Responses to “Édouard Vuillard, painting from ‘one’s own innermost being’”


  1. Thank you Sarah, that is a really interesting and inspiring post

  2. Terry Heller Says:

    Really interesting to learn more about Vuillard from your post, and the courage of his convictions. Such a beautiful painting.

  3. decorartuk Says:

    Sorry to hear about your aunt (how did I miss this post?). I hope the two paintings have found a good home?

    Now that I found out about Vuillard I keep looking at his paintings, they are so beautiful! How do you learn to paint like that… Sigh…
    K.

    • Sarah Zoutewelle Says:

      Thanks for the thought about my aunt, appreciated. I miss her. The Vuillards are being auctioned by Bonhams, not sure what kind of home they’ll end up in, hopefully one where more people can enjoy them! Gorgeous paintings, agreed. I don’t think it is possible for you or me to paint like that for one simple reason, we are not Vuillard. I’ve refrained from copying his work, it is just too subtle and strange as far as brushwork and composition.

      I was there when the Bonhams people came to assess the work, they had a special little infra red light with them which they moved across the paintings to see if there had ever been any restoration work. (There hadn’t) But the paintings were off the wall, leaning on a sofa and you could get right up to them and really see them in a way impossible in museums. They were amazing.


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