Édouard Vuillard (French, 1868–1940) was a painter and printmaker associated with the Nabis, a group of Post-Impressionist artists, including Paul Sérusier (1863-1927), Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Maurice Denis (1870-1843) and best known for his domestic scenes. He trained at the Académie Julian in 1886 under Tony Robert-Fleury (1837-1912), and at the École des Beaux-Arts under Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), before joining the Nabis in 1889. His sketchbooks and studies show an early interest in the interiors of 17th-century Dutch painters and those of Chardin.

One of Vuillard’s early works, La Causette (1893), is part of a series of paintings depicting the artist’s mother and sister in a domestic setting. His Large Interior with Six Figures (1897) is characteristic of Vuillard’s association with the Nabis for its emphasis on decorative patterns, the influence of Japanese woodblock prints, and shallow space. After 1900, Vuillard moved away from the Nabis style and his work became more three-dimensional. He painted a series of portraits depicting his artist friends, including Maurice Denis in 1930 and Pierre Bonnard in 1935, that drew a close connection between the subject and setting. Along with his painting, Vuillard designed costumes for theater productions and painted decorative panels for private clients. He also completed several public commissions, including decoration of the foyers of the Comédie des Champs-Elysées and the Théâtre de Chaillot in Paris. His work is currently held by many museum collections, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Musée d''''''''''''''''Orsay in Paris, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Timeline

In reviewing an exhibition of Vuillard’s work in 1991, the painter Howard Hodgkin highlighted a central problem with the artist’s oeuvre: “No one in a museum knows where to put him. He has fallen between one index card and another for too long ... Each picture is a new adventure, a new beginning. There is nothing that will enable you to bypass having to look at the pictures themselves.”
Vuillard’s drawings, in pastel, charcoal or pencil, have qualities quite separate from his work in oils.
As John Russell Taylor wrote in 1994: “The pencil lines appear to meander and fluctuate almost at random, and yet try for a moment to remove any one of them and you find that something essential would be gone.”
Vuillard was born in Cuiseaux (Saone-et-Loire) but moved to Paris with his family at the age of 10, where he went to school with Maurice Denis and Xavier Rossel. All three went on to study at the Academie Juilian, and with Bonnard, Seruisier and Valloton formed the Nabis group of painters.
The group flourished in the 1890’s and Vuillard became known for his intimate interiors painted in an original style with flattish colours.
From 1900 he, together with Bonnard, became increasingly naturalistic in style and the two of them became the main practitioners of Intimisme, which made use of cameras to capture fleeting informal meetings of groups of friends or relatives in intimate surroundings.
He had several close female friends and generally preferred to paint female sitters.
Although a successful artist he lived relatively modestly, sharing an apartment with his widowed mother until her death in 1928 (he often depicted her in his paintings).
He was reserved and quiet although affectionate and very much liked, but he seldom showed his paintings except at the gallery of his dealer Bernheim Jeune.
The public knew little of his work until the Musee des arts Decoratif held a major retrospective in Paris in 1938.
He died in La Baule while fleeing the German invasion.
For many years he kept a detailed journal (48 volumes all held in the Institute de France, Paris) which he revealed his thoughtful attitude towards art and life.
As a genuine artistic pioneer of the first years of the 20th century, his work is in most of the world’s great collections.