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Marie penchée sur son ouvrage

Marie penchée sur son ouvrage
stamped with initials 'EV' (Lugt 909b; lower right)
oil on board
7 3⁄8 x 9 3⁄8 in. (18.9 x 24 cm.)
Painted circa 1891
Estate of the artist.
Valentine Gallery, New York.
Donald and Jean Stralem, New York (circa 1949); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 8 May 1995, lot 39.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
A. Salomon and G. Cogeval, Vuillard: Le regard innombrable, Catalogue critique des peintures et pastels, Paris, 2003, vol. I, p. 237 no. IV-17 (illustrated in color).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Summer Loan Exhibition, 1949.
Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection and The Brooklyn Museum, The Intimate Interiors of Édouard Vuillard, November 1989-July 1990, no. 11 (illustrated in color; titled The Seamstress (The Servant)).

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Lot Essay

Painted circa 1891, during the height of the Nabis movement, Marie penchée sur son ouvrage depicts the artist’s older sister, Marie, huddled before and wholly absorbed in the act of sewing. Although often anonymous, the figure of the seamstress frequently populated the artist’s oeuvre throughout the 1890s, as Vuillard drew inspiration from a familiar and readily accessible subject: his mother and sister jointly operated a corset atelier from the family home. Rather than capturing the bustling and commercial nature of the atelier, however, the artist routinely sought to instead explore the intertwined relationship between figure and space, as one bleeds into the other.
Here, Vuillard portrays the solitary figure of Marie in isolation, offering a profound absorption reminiscent of interior scenes by Johannes Vermeer and Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, which he would have surely studied at the Louvre. Ever the intimiste, the artist imbues the seemingly banal domestic interior with a quiet emotive potency: “For all their earthiness and concern for telling detail, [the paintings of seamstresses] transcend the merely workaday to a realm of emotional truth that is beyond specific time and place” (exh. cat., op cit., 1989, p. 26). Shrouded in her pulsating and patterned world, Marie quietly attends to her craft, suggesting both her physical absorption and inner life.
In eschewing perspectival space and naturalistic color, Vuillard creates a tapestry of bold greens, oranges and yellows, married together by daubs of paint and energetic brushwork. This rich embrace of the physicality of his medium, coupled with the insistent flatness of the image, renders the sitter inseparable from her environment; she seems not so much to inhabit the space as to merge with it. Elizabeth Easton has written: “The paintings of women sewing stand out in Vuillard's oeuvre for their decorative beauty, their complex construction, and their sense of intimacy. [They] are icons of the inwardness that informed Vuillard's personal approach to Symbolism...These pictures also serve as metaphors for Vuillard's concept of himself as a painter. In depicting women conjoined with their surroundings much like the patterns of the objects they sew, Vuillard in some way reflects the union between the artist and the work he creates...The colors, lines, and patterns that Vuillard used to describe these women stand not only for the decorative nature of the product they were making but also for the harmony of the work of art, Vuillard's creation” (ibid., pp. 39 and 55). Perhaps in his seamstresses did Vuillard thus see some semblance of himself—the artist bound in body and mind with his art.

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