The Seamstress

Creation date
oil on board
11 x 10 in.
Credit line
Gift of Miss Blanche Stillson in memory of Caroline Marmon Fesler
Accession number
Not Currently On View

Vuillard was an intensely private person who preferred to paint small interior scenes peopled by his family and friends. In this image, scraps of ribbon and lace, chintz draperies and the wallpaper of his mother's dressmaking shop interlock to form decorative patterns. They create a subtle interplay of greys, browns and red, interrupted by the clamorous pink windowpanes.

Vuillard was a member of the Nabis, the progressive artists who took their name from the Hebrew word for prophet and emphasized the decorative use of color and shape. The woman at her worktable suits their taste for poetic images of silent, meditative activity.

Provenance Research is on-going at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and information will be added to this record as research is completed. Please contact Annette Schlagenhauff, Assoc. Curator of Research, at with any questions.
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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Maurice Denis's famous analysis, cited here, aptly describes this intimate scene by his fellow painter Edouard Vuillard. Both young men were members of an avant-garde Parisian artists' group who called themselves the Nabis, from the Hebrew word for prophet. Inspired by Symbolist poetry and Gauguin's approach to form and color, they emphasized the decorative and abstract qualities of their compositions. In this small painting, scraps of ribbon and lace, bands of wallpaper, and the angular figure of the seamstress also function as splashes of color and shape that interlock to create a surface pattern as visually engaging as the subject itself. Unpainted areas of the board contribute to the subtle interplay of brown, beige, and red, while the solid pink window ignites the shallow, ambiguous space with its brash intensity.

The woman bending over her worktable also suits the Nabi taste for poetic images of silent, meditative activity. Vuillard, a deeply private person, often painted small interior scenes peopled by his family and friends and endowed with subtle psychological undercurrents. He drew this image from the workroom of his mother's dressmaking shop, in the apartment they shared in Paris. After 1900, Vuillard's paintings became more realistic and less personal, and the intimate scenes of the 1890s are now considered the peak of a career that was to continue for more than forty years.

Remember that a painting, before it is a warhorse, a nude woman, or some anecdote, is primarily a flat surface covered with colors, arranged in a certain order.
-Painter Maurice Denis, 1890