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Madame Arthur Fontaine devant la cheminée

Madame Arthur Fontaine devant la cheminée
signed ‘E Vuillard’ (lower right)
oil on board
28 x 29 in. (71 x 73.5 cm.)
Painted circa 1904
Arthur Fontaine, Paris.
Marie Escudier Fontaine (later Mme Abel-Emile Desjardins), Paris, by descent from the above.
Noël Fontaine, Paris, by descent from the above.
Fernand Depas, Paris.
Private collection, Paris.
Giraud Pissarro Segalot, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001.
G. de La Tourette, ‘Une décoration de Vuillard entre au Petit Palais’, in Beaux-Arts, no. 163, 14 February 1936, p. 1 (illustrated).
A. Salomon & G. Cogeval, Vuillard, Le regard innombrable, Catalogue critique des peintures et pastels, vol. II, Paris, 2003, no. VII-320, p. 698 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Beaux-Arts, Les Étapes de lart contemporain II, Gauguin, ses amis, L’École de Pont-Aven et l’académie Julian, February - March 1934, no. 159.
The Hague, Gemeente Museum, Hedendaagsche Fransche Kunst, February - March 1936, no. 118, p. 39 (illustrated; titled ‘Portret van Mme. Marie Desjardins’ and dated ‘1906’).

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Lot Essay

Madame Arthur Fontaine devant la cheminée displays Vuillard’s characteristic sensitivity to his subjects and the interior spaces which they create and inhabit. Madame Fontaine’s sobre dark blue dress is enlivened by the spray of flowers she wears on her dress, her inquisitive expression, and the casual manner in which she leans against the fireplace. She appears totally at ease and in command of her surroundings. Despite the closely-cropped composition there is a strong sense of depth to the painting, aided by the reflections in the mirror behind the fireplace, minimally expressed with a few strokes of dark blue and white. Through these, we get the impression not only of the back side of the bust placed on the mantlepiece, but also the light flooding through the windows behind the picture plane. Mirrors famously make rooms feel larger, and in numerous paintings Vuillard experiments with this effect to add additional depth to his work.

All these fine details are evoked, rather than slavishly copied, using Vuillard’s trademark rapid execution and gestural, chalky application of paint. In places, such as on the subject’s arm or the fireplace, the board surfaceis treated as an important part of the palette and is completely exposed, adding luminosity and texture to the painting. The immediacy of this approach is influenced by Vuillard’s frequent use of glue-based distemper, medium which is difficult to handle and particularly to overpaint; the strategies developed to cope with distemper were carried over into other media.

Marie Escudier Fontaine (née Escudier) was the wife of the wealthy Paris industrialist Arthur Fontaine. Fontaine was an impassioned patron of the arts, and had a particularly close relationship with Maurice Denis, who introduced Vuillard to Fontaine in around 1900. Fontaine’s progressive streak as chair of the International Labour Organisation endeared him to the left-wing Vuillard, as well as the art dealer, critic and anarchist Felix Féneon. Marie was an accomplished musician who was also well-connected to the arts; the composer Ernest Chausson and the painter Henry Lerolle were her brothers-in law. The Fontaines were also patrons of Odilon Redon; a luminous pastel of Madame Fontaine embroidering against a floral background is a well-loved fixture of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. As with the present work, it was once in the personal collection of Madame Fontaine herself. Vuillard himself painted a handful of paintings of Arthur (one with Marie, and always with a book in hand) but devoted a much larger number of paintings of Marie alone in the Fontaine’s lavishly furnished Paris home. The most well-known is perhaps the Art Insitute of Chicago’s gouache where she is juxtaposed against a busy, decorative background created by a large Persian Rug.

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