After enlisting the representation of Galerie Bernheim-Jeune Vuillard's social circle widened dramatically. What began as a fascination with the social milieu of the bourgeoisie and his own newfound extrovertedness soon led Vuillard to accept numerous portrait commissions. By the 1920s, Vuillard was widely regarded as the best known living portraitist, despite his own apparent antipathy to the practice. Though Vuillard himself would insist, "I don't paint portraits, I paint people in their homes," portrait commissions not only became a staple of his practice and income, but a powerful instrument of his artistic reputation (quoted in G. Cogeval, Edouard Vuillard, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2003, p. 356).
Underpinning Vuillard's paradoxical attitude towards portraiture is the belief, famously expressed in the aforementioned quote, that a portrait is not a strict likeness, but a study of personhood as a composite of each subject's environment. This concept is literalized in Vuillard's substitution of professional roles for subject's names in many of his titles: such is the case with the present work, as Madame Fried is repeatedly identified in the catalogue raisonné as La Violoniste. In the conceptual sense, Vuillard's portraiture is exceptionally forward-thinking, presciently anticipating the later Social Realist work of artists such as August Sander. This evolutionary thinking is also manifest in new aesthetic departures. Unlike the intimate settings of Vuillard's early 20th Century works--so richly detailed and decidedly dark--the portraits of the 1920s utilize radical angles of perspective and bright saturated hues. As Antoine Salomon and Guy Cogeval observe in their catalogue raisonné:
This period is seen by many critics as Vuillard's coming of age as he finally yielded to the blandishments of a more hedonistic sort of Impressionism...In fact, it was precisely at this time that there appeared in Vuillard's painting much stranger, more artificial colours; they were prohibited by the Impressionists, and he had never ventured to use them before: cadmium orange and cobalt purple enabled him to create electrical, even at times flourescent, colour effects (op cit., p. 1297).
Madame Fried rêveuse epitomizes these tendencies in Vuillard's work. The colors are fresh and vibrant and together generate an intensity that infuses an otherwise placid scene. Among the four pastels of Madame Fried listed in the catalogue raisonné there are several consistencies, which reflect Vuillard's interest in the synecdoche between people and the objects that surround them. The three other works, though similarly sized, all appear to be studies for Madame Fried rêveuse which is the most assured, complete and finely detailed. However, throughout the four works the artist always showcases Madame Fried against a backdrop of striped orange wallpaper (probably an imaginative representation of wood paneling), with her music stand and violin. Where the simpler studies foreground these key attributes in a relatively simple composition, the present lot integrates the wallpaper, violin, and stand into a vivid psychological tapestry that seems to extend beyond every edge. "After making numerous sketches in his little notebooks, the painter would then go back to his apartment or his studio and slowly work out the psychological approach to his sitters, in a sense through a strategy of concentric circles" (ibid., p. 1298). Though begun as a simple denotation of a violinist, Madame Fried's portrait illustrates Vuillard's true subject: the influential and enigmatic nature of context.