Like Bonnard, Vuillard, and Denis, the painter and printmaker Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) was affiliated with the Nabi group, who took their name from the Hebrew word for prophet. Born in Switzerland, he moved to Paris at age sixteen and spent the rest of his life there. The artist was a fiercely original printmaker, creating powerful black-and-white woodcuts that offered disturbing perspectives on human nature. He began taking photographs in 1899, the same year he married a young widow with three children. Vallotton chose the Kodak No. 2 Bullet, Model 1898, and turned its viewfinder to his new domestic life. He developed his own film and made his own prints. In its emphatic two-dimensionality, photography was a medium formally suited to the aesthetics of flatness favored by the Nabis. While Vallotton did not have to rely on photography for his vast production of almost 1,700 paintings, he did find inspiration for some canvases in his photographs of his wife and their domestic life. Only twenty of Vallotton’s photographs survive; he may have destroyed others after being criticized in 1916 for basing a painting on a photograph he saw in a magazine.
Madame Vallotton and her Niece, Germaine Aghion, 1899, Gelatin silver print and The Red Room, Etretat, 1899, Oil on board.
Vallotton’s first biographer, German art critic Julius Meier-Graefe (1867-1935), recognized the impact of photography on the artist’s spare aesthetic. The relationship between Madame Vallotton and her Niece, Germaine Aghion, which was t and La chambre rouge, Étretat (Red Room, Étretat),which was painted shortly after the artist’s 1899 acquisition of a Kodak camera, confirms this observation. Vallotton reduced many of the decorative details of the interior to flat patches of color. However, he exercised artistic license in the painting, which departs from the photographic study in the sitter’s expression and in the addition of the seated child.