Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
Property from the Collection of Lew and Edie Wasserman
Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)

Autoportrait au miroir de bambou

Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
Autoportrait au miroir de bambou
stamped with signature 'E Vuillard' (Lugt 2497a; lower right)
oil on canvas
17½ x 21 in. (44.5 x 53.3 cm.)
Painted circa 1890
Estate of the artist.
Sam Salz, Inc., New York (by 1953).
Norman B. Woolworth, Monmouth, Maine; Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 31 October 1962, lot 13.
Stair & Co., New York.
Lew and Edie Wasserman, Los Angeles (acquired circa 1965).
C. Roger-Marx, Vuillard et son temps, 1946, p. 83 (illustrated, p. 26).
P. Ciaffa, The Portraits of Edouard Vuillard, Ph.D. Diss., Columbia University, New York, 1985, pp. 101-106 (illustrated, fig. 18).
E.W. Easton, The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard, exh. cat., The Smithsonian, Washington, D.C., 1989, pp. 10-14 (illustrated in color, fig. 4).
N.E. Forgione, Edouard Vuillard in the 1890s, Intimism, Theater and Decoration, Ph.D. Diss., Ann Arbor, 1992, pp. 113-114 (illustrated, fig. 63).
G. Cogeval, et al., Vuillard, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2003, pp. 8 and 60.
A. Salomon and G. Cogeval, Vuillard, Le regard innombrable, catalogue critique des peintures et pastels, Paris, 2003, vol. I, pp. 47, 65 and 72, no. I-100 (illustrated in color, p. 64).
Cleveland Museum of Art (on extended loan, 1943).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art (on extended loan, 1953).
Cleveland Museum of Art and New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Vuillard, January-June 1954, p. 100 (illustrated in color, p. 11).
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Visionaries and Dreamers, April-May 1956, p. 8, no. 41.

Lot Essay

The present canvas is one of the last and most sophisticated in a series of at least fifteen youthful self-portraits that Vuillard painted between 1887 and 1890, immediately before he adopted the bold color and flat, interlocking shapes of the Nabis (Cogeval, nos. I-76-86, I-97-98, II-1). This concentrated exploration of his own image, a subject to which he would return only on rare occasion later in his career, represents the pinnacle of his pre-Nabis achievement. Guy Cogeval has written, "What is most striking about Vuillard's earliest work is his precocious flair for portraiture. His most inspired youthful works are actually his self-portraits: they seem to capture his presence only fleetingly, and he gazes out of the frame at us with a look of indefinable anxiety, oddly combined with a certain assurance... The self-portraits made before 1890 are the only 'masterpieces' from his youthful period and, indeed, the only great paintings to be produced by any of the future Nabis" (op. cit., 2003, p. 7).

In the majority of these early self-portraits, Vuillard depicted his head tightly framed against a neutral ground, focusing on the candid inspection of his own features and the intensity of his gaze. In the present painting, by contrast, he employed the genre of self-portraiture principally to probe the nature of perception and pictorial creation itself. His head and shoulders are shown reflected in a mirror with a bamboo frame, which hangs on beige and green patterned wallpaper. The back wall and ceiling in the reflected image are rendered in a monochrome brownish-green; a skylight above casts a silvery, early-morning light on the side of the artist's face and on the wall or door at the right. Vuillard's eyes are closed, recalling Renaissance portrayals of the artist as a dreaming genius. Although the bamboo frame and the wallpaper border are rendered with precision, the artist's features are blurry and indistinct, suggesting the eye's inability to focus on two planes at once and thus emphasizing the interlocking realities that make up the composition. The conceit of the mirror, which Vuillard had only hinted at in earlier self-portraits, represents a tribute to Velázquez's Las Meninas, a painting that had acquired mythical status in art academies by the late nineteenth century. Elizabeth Easton has written, "The mirror points directly to the inherent paradox of the self-portrait: the impossibility of truly apprehending oneself. A person can never perceive himself by direct vision: a mirror must stand between the painting subject and the painted object, creating a distance between a person's appearance to others and the reverse image that he actually is able to see... Vuillard's focus on the mirror instead of on his own image only compounds the irony of his commentary" (op. cit., pp. 12-13).

Cogeval has dated the present canvas to 1890 and has suggested that it may have been painted in the studio in Montparnasse that the Nabi artist Paul Ranson lent to Vuillard that summer. By this time, Vuillard was rapidly shedding academic painting manners and plunging into the audacities of Nabi style. Although he opted here for a muted palette in place of the unfettered color typical of the Nabis, the juxtaposition of flat pattern and complicated spatial recession anticipates his Nabi work, as do the subtle disruptions of logic and perspective that make the scene seem oddly skewed. In the reflected image, for example, the wall or door on the right recedes at an abrupt angle, while the skylight above slopes sharply downward, as though operating on an entirely different perspectival system. These two strongly pronounced diagonals form irregular (and therefore destabilizing) triangular incursions that contrast with the extraordinary calm of the artist, who occupies the very center of the composition. In the foreground plane, the upper left corner of the bamboo frame has been omitted, interrupting the symmetry of the composition, and the frame has been cut off entirely at the bottom edge with two unidentifiable patterned strips. Cogeval has concluded, "The peculiar atmosphere of the painting, the unresolved area that creates a faint halo around the artist's face, along with the Japanese bamboo frame that combines with the wallpaper to form an Art Nouveau environment, between them indicate that Vuillard was measuring himself against the complexities of composition before exploring those of style" (op. cit., 2003, p. 65).

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