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Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
Property from the Estate of William Kelly Simpson“Hardly a member of the lay public interested in Egypt has not read and enjoyed [William Kelly Simpson’s] Literature of Ancient Egypt, An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, and Poetry or learned from his Ancient Near East: A History” writes Boston Museum of Fine Arts curator Rita Freed of the late Egyptologist, William Kelly Simpson (1928-2017). William Kelly Simpson was born in Manhattan in 1928. He attended Manhattan’s Buckley School, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and Yale University from where he graduated in 1947 with a degree in English, and obtained his Master’s degree in Philosophy in 1948. That same year, he made his initial foray into Egyptology, when curators W.C. Hayes and Ambrose Lansing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art hired the graduate as a Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Egyptian Art. Imbued with an insatiable curiosity and precocious mind, Professor Simpson penned his first Egyptological article—an exploration of a Fourth Dynasty portrait head—at just twenty-one years old. That piece, published in the Bulletin of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, heralded a remarkable scholarly output, with more than 130 articles and twenty books written throughout his lifetime. Professor Simpson’s position within The Met’s Department of Egyptian Art forever changed the trajectory of his life, and, indeed, the wider field of Egyptology. It was during his time at The Met that Professor Simpson participated in his first archaeological expedition—an excavation in Iraq sponsored by the British School of Archaeology—and decided to pursue graduate work in Egyptology. In the early 1950s, the young scholar commuted between his work in New York and his studies at Yale, all while serving in the 101st Armed Calvary of the New York National Guard. In June 1953, Professor Simpson married a granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Professor Simpson studied for his doctorate under noted Egyptologist Ludlow Bull, and wrote his dissertation on the excavation of the pyramid of Amenemhat I. It was not until obtaining his Ph.D. from Yale in 1954, however, that Professor Simpson made his first trek to Egypt, after being awarded a prestigious Fulbright research fellowship. Professor Simpson led excavation teams at the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur and at Mitrahineh for two years. Upon returning to the United States, he was immediately offered a fellowship at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and in 1958 was appointed Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Literature at Yale. During Professor Simpson’s forty-six years in academia, he rose to Associate Professor, Professor, and Chair of Yale’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literature; was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Humanities; and positioned Yale as one of the foremost centers for Egyptology. Among his many archaeological projects in Egypt were the famed Pennsylvania-Yale Expeditions recording New Kingdom tombs and Meroitic cemeteries, the 1960s UNESCO campaign to rescue Nubian monuments threatened by the construction of the Aswan Dam, and excavations at the Giza Pyramids and sites in Nubia. “[Professor Simpson] served the monuments of Egypt... with unstinting passion,” noted fellow scholar Hussein Bassir. “He served as a major channel between Egypt and the US,” Bassir added, “to the benefit of the two nations and the archaeological and cultural ties between the two countries.” The earliest acquisitions in Professor Simpson’s collection were made by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, the co-founder of The Museum of Modern Art, from whom many works passed by descent. Mrs. Rockefeller acquired Henri Matisse’s radiant 1928 still life, Plâtre, bouquet de fleurs, in 1930, three years before founding MoMA. Beginning in the 1970s, Professor Simpson put together one of the greatest collections of Nabi paintings ever assembled, led by three 1890s masterworks by Édouard Vuillard: Les Lilas (circa 1890), Autoportrait à la canne et de canotier (circa 1891-1892) and the extraordinary interior Misia et Vallotton à Villeneuve (1899). Christie’s is proud and deeply honored to present these highlights of the Nabi movement along with other exceptional modern European paintings, drawings and sculpture from the Estate of William Kelly Simpson in our Impressionist & Modern Art Evening, Day and Works on Paper Sales this fall. Those of us who knew Professor Simpson as students at Yale remember a man of easy erudition, a sharp wit (one friend remembers it rather more powerfully as “rapier-like”), and wide curiosity. I met him as a graduate student, when a few of us who were members of the Yale Senior Society called Wolf’s Head (with its Egyptological history) thought it would be wonderful if he could come to the house and tell us about the collection of Egyptian artifacts acquired over more than a century by the society or its members. He did so with great speed, as the “secrecy” of these societies was rather more closely guarded at that time (the early 1970’s) than it is today. What amazed him was less the artifacts—though they turned out, of course, to be genuine and of real interest to him—but the whole context in which they were placed, particularly an impressive room used for rituals about which none of the current members had the slightest notion. The room was reportedly designed by no less than Louis Comfort Tiffany, and a small group of us sat in it with Mr. Simpson and speculated wildly about its original purposes and meaning. It was, in effect, a three-hour seminar in a type of “social archeology” of 19th century Yalies, who were almost as far removed from us in the early 1970’s as the ancient Egyptians. Mr. Simpson was so fascinating and erudite that all of us wondered what his non-academic life was like, and a friend and I stayed on and talked with him about his art collecting and his interests that strayed far from hieroglyphs and mummies. Indeed, he knew much more than I did at the time about the area in art history that I was beginning to study—French and particularly Parisian art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The next week, when he came again to Yale to teach a seminar, my friend and I went with him to the Yale University Art Gallery, and I well remember talking in real detail about 19th century works on paper, about the two small panel paintings by Vuillard then in the gallery’s collection, and about a particularly wonderful 1872 painting by Alfred Sisley. We sat in the courtyard under a seated figure by Henry Moore and talked about the relationships between art and history—about the “currency” of much of the most interesting modern art versus the quest for eternity or timelessness that we too often attribute to artists of the Ancient World. For him, if a work engaged his attention, his emotions, and his intellect, it was worth studying in depth, and I have powerful memories of the three of us trying to decode a particularly complex, but tiny Vuillard panel painting from the early 1890’s, focusing particularly on a small triangle of pink above the head of the principal figure. What IS it? He kept asking us. He was convinced that it was something actually present at the scene and that Vuillard had carefully composed the small painting in the room it represents, while the figure—his sister, we speculated—was absorbed in her work. For him, it was a kind of mimetic puzzle—something or some visual element that EXISTED and that presented itself to us as a problem to solve. Mr. Simpson thought that every one of Vuillard’s painted marks, no matter how tiny, had two functions—compositional and representational—and that the artist played games with his viewers by creating “degrees of difficulty” in the identification of forms that turned each painting into a game. For my friend and me, Mr. Simpson’s private seminar was an exercise in close looking that is too rare in our education, an INTENSE and focused visual analysis—rarer and rarer in the age of the internet with its millions of images and the ubiquity of “scanning” at the expense of “looking.” Mr. Simpson’s collection—and we always called him Mr. Simpson—was all about the adventure of “looking,” and, when we see it today as it re-enters the market from which it came, we know that he would be happy that others would RE-engage in this process of close looking—whether at a Vuillard panel, a drawing by one of the many artists whose gestures he prized, a sculpture, or—in my memory—the little 1872 Sisley that remains at Yale. He learned the art of observation—of CLOSE looking—by studying his collection of Indian “miniatures”—as we call them—where details abound. But he studied his Nabis works, of which he formed a definitive private collection, with the same care that he sought “details” in Indian paintings. Whether the objects in the window of Bonnard’s tightly bounded Parisian streets or the painting on the wall over the bedchamber of a dying patient in a 20th century Vuillard, each work benefitted from his repeated attention. I remember him coming into a room in Wolf’s Head Society at Yale, looking at a great painted circle on a gilded ceiling and at the mummy behind glass on the back wall. He was dapper and shy—but not really THAT shy, and we listened as he taught us to LOOK. As I think about him now, after many years with too few actual contacts, I think of a man not unlike the young Vuillard in the wonderful self-portrait Mr. Simpson treasured—looking at us, as dapper as Mr. Simpson, Vuillard with his straw hat, his natty clothes, and his face with wide eyes and a mouth covered by his red mustache and beard. For Mr. Simpson, as for Vuillard, looking was more important than talking. Richard R. Brettell The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History, The University of Texas at Dallas
Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)

Les Lilas (Le bouquet schématique)

Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
Les Lilas (Le bouquet schématique)
stamped with signature 'E Vuillard' (Lugt 2497a; lower right)
oil on board laid down on cradled panel
13 ¾ x 11 in. (34.9 x 28 cm.)
Painted circa 1890
Estate of the artist.
Sam Salz, Inc., New York (acquired from the above).
Donald and Jean Stralem, New York (acquired from the above, 1953); sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 8 May 1995, lot 42.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
B. Dorival, Les peintres du vingtième siècle: Nabis, Fauves, Cubistes, Paris, 1957, p. 21 (titled Lilas dans un vase).
ArtNews, December 1962, p. 36 (illustrated).
S. Preston, Edouard Vuillard, New York, 1972, p. 70 (illustrated in color, p. 71; dated 1892 and with incorrect support).
A. Georges, Symbolisme et décor: Vuillard, 1888-1905, Ph.D. Diss, Université de Paris I, Sorbonne, 1982, p. 24.
G. Cogeval, Vuillard: Le temps détourné, découvertes, exh. cat., Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 1993, p. 26 (detail illustrated in color on a frontispiece; illustrated again in color, p. 26, fig. 26g; with incorrect support).
A. Salomon and G. Cogeval, Vuillard: Le regard innombrable, catalogue critique des peintures et pastels, Paris, 2003, vol. I, p. 94, no. II-28 (illustrated in color).
The Cleveland Museum of Art and New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Edouard Vuillard, January-June 1954, p. 101 (illustrated in color, p. 21; dated 1892 and with incorrect support).
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Nabis and their Circle, November-December 1962, p. 149 (illustrated in color on the front cover; dated 1892 and with incorrect support).
New York, Christie’s, Manson & Woods, Ltd., Van Gogh, Gauguin and Their Circle: An Exhibition for the Benefit of the Episcopal Mission Society in the Diocese of New York, November 1968, no. 32 (illustrated; dated 1892).
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., The Protean Century: 1870-1970, A Loan Exhibition from the Dartmouth College Collection, Alumni and Friends of the College, February 1970, no. 63 (illustrated; dated 1892 and with incorrect support).
Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario; San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor and The Art Institute of Chicago, Edouard Vuillard, September 1971-March 1972, p. 226, no. IV (illustrated in color; dated 1892 and with incorrect support).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1990 (on loan).
Lyons, Musée des Beaux-Arts and Barcelona, Fundación Caja de Pensions, Vuillard, September 1990-January 1991, pp. 168 and 212, no. 8 (illustrated in color, p. 169; with incorrect support).
Montreal, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Le Temps des Nabis, August-November 1998, p. 115, no. 158 (illustrated; illustrated again in color, p. 26; with incorrect support).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais and London, Royal Academy of Arts, Edouard Vuillard, January 2003-April 2004, pp. 53 and 64, no. 10 (illustrated in color, p. 64).
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Gauguin and the Origins of Symbolism, September 2004-January 2005, p. 211, no. 87 (illustrated in color).

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter

Lot Essay

During the latter months of 1889, in short order, Edouard Vuillard celebrated his twenty-first birthday, left the conservative École des Beaux-Arts, and joined forces with the circle of young avant-garde painters—Paul Sérusier, Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Paul Ranson—who had recently begun to call themselves the Nabis, from a word in Hebrew and Arabic that means prophet, inspired, or chosen. The following year, in 1890, Vuillard abandoned the soft-focus, tonal method of his earliest work and adopted a radically anti-naturalist approach to picture-making, in which flat, interlocking planes of brilliant color take the place of traditional modeling. The present Lilas—or Le bouquet schématique, as Vuillard is said to have called the work—constitutes the artist’s definitive, breakthrough statement of this new and provocatively modern manner.
“Signifying the drastic nature of Vuillard’s break with academic art, this glorious outburst of youthful genius can almost be regarded as a perfect demonstration of Nabi techniques and of their way of re-creating the visual world,” Stuart Preston has written. “The group believed that appearances should not be reproduced in a literal manner; that color should be laid on in semi-arbitrary flat patches; and that nature could and should permissibly be deformed in the search for an ideal of decorative beauty. Vuillard’s bold simplifications here of flowers, leaves, and vase follow these precepts to the letter, and the results, judged by any standards, are striking, original, fresh, and fascinating” (op. cit., 1972, p. 70).
The Nabis dated the inception of their movement to autumn 1888, when Sérusier brought back from Pont-Aven a small landscape that he had painted under Gauguin’s tutelage. It was rendered in pure, unmixed colors that do not transcribe the actual appearance of nature, but rather suggest the painter’s subjective emotional response before the motif. The Nabis called this magically auspicious painting Le Talisman. “Thus was introduced to us for the first time, in a paradoxical and unforgettable form, the fertile concept of a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order,” Denis explained. “Thus we learned that every work of art was a transposition...a passionate equivalent of a sensation received” (“Définition du néo-traditionnisme” in Art et Critique, 1890; quoted in H.B. Chipp, ed., Theories of Modern Art, Berkeley, 1968, p. 101).
Although Vuillard, solitary by nature and disinclined to doctrine, hesitated before throwing in his lot with the Nabis, by 1890—“the Sérusier year,” he later called it—he had fully embraced the pictorial revolution. “The purer the elements employed, the purer the work; the more mystical the painters, the more vivid the colors,” he recorded at that time in his journal (quoted in, op. cit., 2003, p. 68). In Les Lilas, the mauve and green harmonies of the bouquet stand out sharply against the abstract orange ground, and areas of light and shade are juxtaposed without inflection. The trapezoidal yellow highlight on the left side of the vase is sufficient to suggest its volume, which casts a blue shadow of startling brilliance across the butter-colored table top.
“This ‘schematized bouquet’ represents the death-throes of the precepts taught in the academies,” Guy Cogeval has written, “whereby objects had to be seen in the round by means of color gradation. The Lilacs may be said to be Vuillard’s Talisman” (ibid., p. 94).

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