Edouard VUILLARD

(Cuiseaux 1868 - La Baule 1940)

Portrait of Jean Reiss

Pastel on buff paper, laid down on board.
Signed and dedicated pour Lucy / E Vuillard at the lower right. 
390 x 342 mm. (15 3/8 x 13 1/2 in.)
 
Edouard Vuillard was, as one scholar has written, ‘in many ways the supreme graphic artist among the Nabis. He drew throughout his life, indeed daily...’ From around 1900 onwards the artist used mainly pastel for his drawings, and soon came to master the subtlety and vibrancy of this challenging medium. As the critic and art historian Claude Roger-Marx wrote, in one of the first monographs on the artist, ‘Vuillard often found expression by means of pastels’, and indeed he made more extensive use of the medium than perhaps any French artist since Degas in the previous generation. Pastel was to become an essential part of Vuillard’s working process until the end of his career, used for landscape and figure studies, compositional drawings and still-life subjects, as well as in preparatory studies for portraits.  

The subject of this charming portrait, executed in 1915, is Jean Reiss, a nephew of Vuillard’s close friend and muse Lucy Hessel. Depicted wearing a marinière, or sailor suit, the young Jean appears lost in thought, and oblivious to the artist drawing him. Another pastel portrait of Jean Reiss of the same date but of somewhat smaller dimensions, is in a private collection in Canada.

The present portrait was given by Vuillard to Lucy Hessel on the 21st of April 1915, and has remained in the collection of her descendants until recently. 
 


At the start of his career, Edouard Vuillard joined a group of young artists - including Maurice Denis, Paul Sérusier, Pierre Bonnard and Kerr-Xavier Roussel - who called themselves the Nabis and were united by a desire to develop a new, more expressive pictorial language, inspired by the work of Paul Gauguin. In the 1890's, Vuillard began receiving a number of private commissions for wall panels intended to decorate the rooms of private houses. This was a genre in which he was to become very successful, and between 1892 and 1901 he painted a number of these large-scale panneaux décoratifs, almost all the result of commissions from a small group of mutual friends and enlightened collectors. Vuillard’s work of this type remained largely unknown to the public at large until several panels were exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in 1905.

In the early years of the new century, enjoying the fruits of a commercial arrangement with the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Vuillard began expanding his repertoire of decorative panels and small, intimiste domestic interiors to include portraits and landscapes. Although his work as a peintre-décorateur was largely confined to private homes, he did receive a handful of public commissions, including the decoration of the foyer of the newly built Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in 1912. The later years of his career found Vuillard saw mainly as a portrait painter, often depicting his sitters within an interior setting. He rarely exhibited in public after 1914, and it was not until a large retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1938, two years before his death, that interest in Vuillard was renewed.

As a modern scholar has noted, ‘Vuillard was in many ways the supreme graphic artist among the Nabis. He drew throughout his life, indeed daily...’ From around 1900 onwards he used mainly pastel for his drawings, and came to master the subtlety and vibrancy of this challenging medium. In one of the first monographs on the artist, the critic and art historian Claude Roger-Marx wrote that, ‘Vuillard often found expression by means of pastels’, and he made more extensive use of the pastel medium than perhaps any French artist since Degas in the previous generation. Pastel was to become an essential part of Vuillard’s working process until the end of his career, and was used for landscape and figure studies, compositional drawings, still life subjects and as preparatory studies for portraits.

Provenance

Presented by the artist to Lucy Hessel, Paris, in April 1915
By descent to her adopted daughter, Lucie (Lulu) Grandjean-Hessel (Mme. Jacques Arpels), Paris
Thence by descent.

 

Literature

Antoine Salomon and Guy Cogeval, Vuillard: The Inexhaustible Glance. Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, Milan, 2003, Vol.III, p.1265, no.X-190 (where dated 1915).
 

Edouard VUILLARD

Portrait of Jean Reiss