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    Sale 1902

    Impressionist and Modern Works on Paper

    7 November 2007, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 128

    Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)

    Biana Duhamel dans le rôle de "Miss Helyett"

    Price Realised  


    Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
    Biana Duhamel dans le rôle de "Miss Helyett"
    stamped with initials 'EV' (Lugt 909c; lower right)
    pastel on paper
    16¼ x 10 1/8 in. (41.3 x 25.7 cm)
    Drawn circa 1891-1892

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    In the early 1890s, French theatre experienced a stylistic revolution that was in no small part impacted by a dissident group of artists that included Edouard Vuillard, Maurice Denis, Paul Sérusier, Ker-Xavier Roussel and Pierre Bonnard, known as the Nabis. Inspired by the work of Paul Gauguin and heavily influenced by Japanese prints, these artists employed a decorative style using flat patches of color with bold contour--a style that lent itself well to theatrical stage settings. Vuillard's first theatrical collaboration was with the director Aurélien Lugné-Poe, in 1891, on Maeterlinck's L'Intruse. He would continue throughout the 1890s to collaborate on stage sets, direction and lighting, as well as design lithographic playbill covers, for the avant-garde theatre. John Russell has written:

    He adored the theatre, he mixed a great deal with theatre people, he had theatre people for his first patrons, and he could not look at even the most humdrum scene without giving it, in his mind, a trial run for the stage. He was witty, and observant, and he took nothing for granted; it came quite naturally to him to set down his experience of life on the heightened and economical way which is essential to success in the theatre (in Edouard Vuillard, exh. cat., The Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1971, p. 19).

    The present work depicts a character from the brassy and witty operetta by Bouderon and Audran, Miss Helyett, which opened at the Bouffes Parisiens in 1890. The story follows the tribulations of a clergyman's daughter, who infused with her father's Puritanism, struggles against the temptations and harsh realities of modern life, often consulting the sacred pouch dangling from her belt that contained a volume of paternal exhortations. This conflicted character inspired Vuillard, who transformed her costume and strappy belt into a swirling decoration in vibrant hues and flat forms.

    The dancing figure melodically twists into an S-shaped curve, her arms outstretched, head tilted back, knees kicking up under her purple dress, with her belt and pouch swinging to the rhythm. Considered one of his most audacious works from the period, in the present lot Vuillard employed dazzling and dense pastels that literally glow from the sheet. The pure, incandescent yellow background is further heightened by the fuchsia footlights that form a wave at the lower edge of the sheet. Jane Avril, the infamous cabaret performer of the Moulin Rouge who "danced like a delirious orchid," also inspired Vuillard, who similarly captured her in pastel comically cavorting against a garish monochromatic background, her lanky body twisted into a slithery helix (fig. 4). John Russell described these theatre scenes as "having been dashed off as if in the front row of the stalls. They have an uninhibited linear energy, combined with an element of ruthless intuition about how theatre people carry on, which makes them at once startling and irresistibly droll" (ibid., p. 29).

    The influence of Japanese prints (figs. 2 and 3) is apparent in the sinuous outlines, decorative patterning, exaggerated gestures and element of caricature in the present work. Ursula Perucchi-Petri explains: "Woodcuts of Japanese women mostly show clothed figures. Their movements are revealed chiefly by the folds of their attire. Their S-shaped lines and elaborate postures impart a charming momentum and an expressive contour to the garment, which also serves to convey the emotions of the idealized woman" (in A. Salomon and G. Cogeval, op. cit., p. 165). Biana Duhamel dans le rôle de "Miss Helyett" is the ultimate culmination of Vuillard's fascination with theatre, decoration and Japonisme in the 1890s.

    (fig. 1) The present lot
    (fig. 2) Kitao Masayoshi, from the sketchbook Ryakuja shiki, 1795. Private collection (formerly in the collection of Edouard Vuillard).
    (fig. 3) Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Japanese woodcut. Private collection (formerly in the collection of Maurice Denis).
    (fig. 4) Edouard Vuillard, Jane Avril à l'ombrelle, circa 1891-1892. Private collection.


    Estate of the artist.
    Joseph Rosensaft, New York (by 1958).
    Acquired from the estate of the above by the present owner, circa 1976.


    U. Perucchi-Petri, Die Nabis und Japan, Das Frühwerk von Bonnard, Vuillard, und Denis, Munich, 1976, pp. 119-120, fig. 73 (illustrated).
    G. Aitken, Les Peintres et le théâtre autour de 1900 à Paris, dissertation, Paris, 1978, pp. 90 and 285, fig. 38 (illustrated).
    G. Mauner, The Nabis: Their History and Their Art, 1888-1896, dissertation, New York, 1978, p. 201, fig. 45 (illustrated).
    P. Ciaffa, The Portraits of Edouard Vuillard, dissertation, New York, 1985, pp. 289-290, fig. 149 (illustrated).
    Un hommage à Edouard Vuillard, exh. cat., Maison Lapillonne, Cuiseaux, 1990, p. 33 (illustrated).
    N.E. Forgione, Edouard Vuillard in the 1890s: Intimism, Theater and Decoration, dissertation, Ann Arbor, 1992, pp. 72-73, fig. 44 (illustrated).
    G. Cogeval, "Vuillard: Le temps détourné," Découvertes, no. 178, Paris, 1993, p. 47 (illustrated in color).
    A. Salomon and G. Cogeval, Vuillard, Le regard innombrable, Catalogue critique des peintures et pastels, Paris, 2003, vol. I, pp. 164-165, no. III-1 (illustrated in color).


    London, Wildenstein & Co., Ltd., Paris in the Nineties, May-June 1954, no. 122.
    Vevey, Switzerland, Musée Jenisch, Paris 1900, July-September 1954, no. 217.
    Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Bonnard, Vuillard et les Nabis (1888-1903), June-October 1955, no. 297.
    Vevey, Switzerland, Musée Jenisch, De Monet à Chagall, Collection Rosensaft, June-September 1958, no. 27.
    New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Vuillard (Loan Exhibition for the Benefit of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine), October-November 1964, no. 5 (illustrated).
    University Park, The Pennsylvania State University, College of Arts and Architecture, Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940): Centennial Exhibition, April-May 1968, no. 19.
    Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais Nabis: Bonnard, Vuillard, Maurice Denis, Vallotton, 1888-1900, September 1983-January 1984, p. 416, no. 231 (illustrated in color, p. 50, fig. 25).
    New Brunswick, New Jersey, The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, The Nabis and the Parisian Avant-Garde, 1988, p. 24, no. 156 (illustrated in color, pl. 43).
    Lyons, Musée des Beaux-Arts and Barcelona, Fundació Caixa de Pensions, Vuillard, September 1990-January 1991, pp. 136 and 138, no. 26 (illustrated in color).
    Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum; Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery; London, Hayward Gallery and Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Vuillard, September 1991-March 1992, p. 39, no. 6 (illustrated).
    Kunsthaus Zurich and Paris, Grand Palais and Musée d'Orsay, Die Nabis Propheten der Moderne and Nabis, 1888-1900, May 1993-January 1994, pp. 47-50, no. 231 (illustrated in color, fig 25).