Jean Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940) was a member of the group of French painters who called themselves Nabis. His best pictures were inspired by the immediate activity around him, to which he imparted a mysterious, ritualistic character.
Édouard Vuillard was born at Cuiseaux on Nov. 11, 1868. After his father's death in 1883, Vuillard's mother established a dressmaking workshop in their apartment in Paris. She encouraged her son's artistic ambitions from the first. Vuillard never married and, in terms of external incidents, led an uneventful life.
In 1889 Vuillard began to work at the Académie Julian, where he met Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Ranson, and Paul Sérusier. This was the nucleus of the Nabi (a Hebrew word meaning prophet) group. After the Salon of 1890 rejected Vuillard's work, he never again submitted anything for consideration by official circles. That year he made his first theater programs for the Théâtre Libre, an art he perfected in his collaboration with the symbolist-oriented Théâtre de l'Oeuvre from 1893, when he helped found it, until 1898.
In 1890 Denis had published the famous dictum, "Remember that a painting, before being a battle horse, a nude, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors arranged in a given order." It was on this flat surface that Vuillard effected his astonishing transformations of ordinary activities into evocative and expressive arrangements. His best works, such as Mother and Sister of the Artist and Dressmaker's Studio, strike a rare balance between spontaneity and studied structure in the delicate handling of value relationships and textures. Many of his early works are modest in size and were considered "illegible" in their rarefied tints, yet Vuillard demonstrated his skill on a large scale in many decorative panels. Perhaps the most successful are the set for Alexandre Natanson, director of the Revue blanche, the magazine to which the Nabis contributed illustrations. Vuillard's early period also includes the influential set of color lithographs Paysages et intérieurs (1899). He exhibited with the Nabis between 1891 and 1896.
After the turn of the century, Vuillard's art lost much of its originality and force. He was always a skillful painter, however, and his portraits of members of the upper classes, while no longer searching creations, are extraordinary for their interest in the sitters and the minutiae of their surroundings.
In 1937 he designed decorations for the Palais de Chaillot and in 1938 for the League of Nations Palace, Geneva. In 1938 he received a large retrospective exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and was elected to the Academy of Fine Arts. He died at La Baule on June 21, 1940.
Further Reading on Jean Édouard Vuillard
There are studies of Vuillard available in English: Claude Roger-Marx, Vuillard: His Life and Work (1946); Andrew Carnduff Ritchie, Édouard Vuillard (1954); John Russell, Vuillard (1971); and Stuart Preston, Vuillard (1971).
Additional Biography Sources
Makarius, Michel, Vuillard, New York: Universe Books, 1989. Roger-Marx, Claude, Vuillard, his life and work, New York: AMS Press, 1977.