Édouard Vuillard

Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940), the master of the subtle but psychologically penetrating painting, also turned the camera to the emotional ties and aesthetic relationships that animated his art. This member of the Nabi brotherhood started taking pictures around 1895, using a Kodak. He had the film developed professionally but often did the printing himself or entrusted it to his mother, a seamstress with whom he lived until her death in 1928. Vuillard’s photography primarily features his family and close friends, especially his mother; a young muse named Misia Natanson, married to his publisher; and his mistress, Lucy Hessel, the wife of his dealer. While Vuillard’s paintings are rarely directly inspired by his photographs, camera effects such as enlarged foreground figures and spatial complexities find reflection in his paintings. Vuillard’s family archive contains nearly 2,000 photographs, solid evidence of the artist’s attachment to the medium. None of them were exhibited until 1963, when the Galerie l’Oeil in Paris mounted the first exhibition of photographs by any of the Nabi painters.

before
after

The Newspaper, ca. 1896−98, Oil on cardboard and Thadée and Misia Natanson in the salon, Rue St. Florentin, 1898, Gelatin silver print.

Vuillard often directed his camera to the rame subject that occupied many of his finest painting: the rich patterns and textures of the Paris apartment he shared with his mother. The canvas depicting Mme. Vuillard reading the paper has the compositional complexity and active surface design found in his photographs of publisher Thadée Natanson, and his wife Misia. Vuillard’s attraction to Misia informed the subject matter and the mood for many of his works in the later 1890s.