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Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
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Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)

La femme au fauteuil (Misia et Thadée Natanson)

Details
Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
La femme au fauteuil (Misia et Thadée Natanson)
inscribed 'E. Vuillard’ (lower right)
oil on paper laid down on canvas
36 1/2 x 29 3/8 in. (92.5 x 74.5 cm.)
Executed in 1896
Provenance
Vente au bénéfice du monument Cézanne, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 22 May 1911, lot 21 (a donation from the artist).
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (no. 18767), by whom acquired at the above sale.
Gaston Bernheim de Villers, Paris, by whom acquired from the above, on 3 January 1913, until at least October 1937.
Sam Salz, New York, after 1948.
Mr & Mrs Nate B. Spingold, New York, by 1953.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York (no. 270.57), a gift from the above in 1957.
Eugene V. Thaw, New York, by whom acquired from the above, in May 1986.
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York, by whom acquired from the above.
Acquired from the above by the present owners, on 28 August 1986.
Literature
La Vie, no. 2, Paris, 15 January 1914 (illustrated).
'Vuillard: A Neglected Painter of a Gentle World Regains his Lost Fame', in Life, vol. 37, no. 18, New York, 1 November 1954, p. 78 (illustrated).
A.H. Barr, ed., 'Works of Art: Given or Promised', in The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art, vol. 26, no. 1, New York, Autumn 1958, p. 51 (illustrated).
S. Preston, 'Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions', in Burlington Magazine, vol. 102, no. 686, London, May 1960, p. 229 (illustrated fig. 51, p. 227).
P. Huisman, 'Misia, Muse de Vuillard', in Connaissance des arts, no. 133, March 1963, p. 63 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
F.T. Ross, 'Gallery Previews in New York', in Pictures on Exhibit, vol. 38, no. 2, New York, November 1964, p. 5 (illustrated).
J. Lanes, 'Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions', in The Burlington Magazine, vol. 106, no. 741, London, December 1964, no. 15, p. 591 (illustrated fig. 45, p. 589; with incorrect dimensions).
C. Roger-Marx, Vuillard: Intérieurs, Paris, 1968, pl. 6 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
A. Gold & R. Fizdale, Misia: The Life of Misia Sert, New York, 1980, p. 114 (illustrated).
L. Oakley, Edouard Vuillard, New York, 1981, p. 10 (illustrated pl. 7).
A. Georges, Symbolisme et décor (Vuillard: 1888-1905), vol. I, Paris, 1982, pp. 72 & 220 (with incorrect dimensions).
P. Ciaffa, The Portraits of Edouard Vuillard, New York, 1985, pp. 255-256 (illustrated fig. 123).
E. Daniel, Vuillard: L’Espace de L'Intimité, Paris, 1985, pp. 86 & 89 (illustrated fig. 24, n.p.).
S. Preston, Edouard Vuillard, New York, 1985, p. 70 (illustrated p. 71; with incorrect dimensions).
M. Makarius, Vuillard, Paris, 1989, pp. 19 & 102 (illustrated p. 22; with incorrect dimensions).
E.W. Easton, The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1989, pp. 103, 108-110, 113 & 125 (illustrated fig. 79, p. 102; with incorrect dimensions and medium).
A. Dumas & G. Cogeval, Vuillard, exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, 1990, p. 76 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
G. Bernier, La Revue blanche, Paris, 1991, p. 316 (illustrated p. 68; with incorrect dimensions).
G.L. Groom, Edouard Vuillard: Painter-Decorator, Patrons and Projects, 1892-1912, New Haven, 1993, p. 94 (illustrated fig. 161, p. 95; with incorrect dimensions).
E.W. Easton, 'Vuillard’s photography: Artistry and accident', in Apollo, June 1994, p. 15 (illustrated fig. 4, p. 11; with incorrect dimensions).
A. Salomon & G. Cogeval, Vuillard: The Inexhaustible Glance, Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, vol. I, Paris, 2003, no. VI-34, pp. 476-477 (illustrated p. 476).
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Vuillard, Oeuvres récentes (panneaux décoratifs et tableaux), December 1913 (not listed).
Paris, Petit Palais, Les Maîtres de l’art indépendant, 1895-1937, June - October 1937, no. 24, p. 58.
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Oeuvres de Vuillard de 1890 à 1910, January - February 1938, no. 38.
Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Edouard Vuillard, January - March 1954, p. 102 (illustrated p. 51; with incorrect dimensions); this exhibition later travelled to New York, The Museum of Modern Art, April - June 1954.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, European Masters of our Time, October - November 1957, no. 133, n.p. (illustrated pl. 3; dated '1897', with incorrect dimensions and medium).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Works of Art: Given or Promised, October - November 1958, p. 51 (illustrated).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Nate and Frances Spingold Collection, March - June 1960, n.p. (titled 'The Conversation').
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Vuillard, October - November 1964, no. 15, n.p. (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions and medium).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Paintings from Private Collections, Summer 1967, no. 109.
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., From Realism to Symbolism: Whistler and His World, March - April 1971, no. 140, p. 135 (illustrated pl. 59; with incorrect dimensions and medium); this exhibition later travelled to Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Faces from the World of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, November - December 1972, no. 69, n.p. (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
New York, University of Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, Artists of La Revue Blanche: Bonnard, Toulouse-Lautrec, Vallotton, Vuillard, January - April 1984, no. 78, p. 54 (illustrated p. 55).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Edouard Vuillard, January - April 2003, no. 148, p. 219 (illustrated p. 218; with incorrect dimensions).
Special Notice

These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.

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Keith Gill
Keith Gill

Lot Essay

La femme au fauteuil (Misia et Thadée Natanson) is a supremely musical composition, more musical than any of Vuillard’s paintings of Misia actually playing the piano. The sitter appears to be slowly surrendering to an ecstatic happiness, the sparkling expression of what she hears in her inner ear. The picture-space is mobile, fluid, malleable; it brims with the echo of a vanished music, the memory of which continues to envelop her. In a way, Vuillard comes closer than ever here to what certain pieces by Debussy intimate: in essence sound– the purest sound–is but the memory of sound’ -Guy Cogeval

‘Tenderness, desires of work, ambitions, and sensualities.’ -Edouard Vuillard

'Who speaks of art speaks of poetry. There is no art without a poetic aim,’ wrote Vuillard in his journal in 1894. ‘There is a species of emotion particular to painting. There is an effect that results from a certain arrangement of colours, of lights, of shadows, etc. It is this that one calls the music of painting’ (Vuillard, quoted in E.W. Easton, The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard, exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1989, p. 103).

In La femme au fauteuil (Misia et Thadée Natanson), the deeply personal and profoundly affecting experience of music provided Vuillard the raptly lyrical subject matter for the scene and inspired the polyphonic layering of colour and pattern that transports the viewer from the world of literal description into one of pure, abstract ideas and emotions. In the foreground of this rapturous image, before a grand piano draped with a Spanish shawl, sits the legendarily alluring Misia Natanson, the muse and darling of the most advanced artistic circle in Paris at the fin de siècle and the object of reticent Vuillard’s unrequited desire. A prodigiously gifted pianist who studied with Gabriel Fauré in her youth, Misia here appears to be listening with blissful absorption to some exquisite melody, her head gently inclined and her eyes closed in inward reverie. She faces left toward an unseen source of light, which reverberates through the sleeves and bodice of her dress; the intertwined, decorative arabesques of the wallpaper behind her evoke the rich, non-mimetic texture of the music that runs through her thoughts, enveloping her in a private world.

La femme au fauteuil (Misia et Thadée Natanson) is a supremely musical composition, more musical than any of Vuillard’s paintings of Misia actually playing the piano,’ Guy Cogeval has written. ‘The sitter appears to be slowly surrendering to an ecstatic happiness, the sparkling expression of what she hears in her inner ear. The picture-space is mobile, fluid, malleable; it brims with the echo of a vanished music, the memory of which continues to envelop her. In a way, Vuillard comes closer than ever here to what certain pieces by Debussy intimate: in essence sound—the purest sound—is but the memory of sound’ (A. Salomon & G. Cogeval, Vuillard: The Inexhaustible Glance, Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, vol. I, Paris, 2003, p. 477).

The setting for this exquisite painting is the apartment on the rue Saint Florentin in Paris where Misia—born Marie Godebska, the daughter of a Polish sculptor—lived with her husband Thadée Natanson, co-founder of the influential literary journal La Revue Blanche. A born iconoclast with a siren’s charm, Misia had moved on her own to Paris in 1891, at the age of nineteen; she wed Thadée two years later and soon became the hostess of the city’s most sparkling salon, gathering around her a worldly, intellectual society of painters and poets, critics and composers. ‘Her position, combined with her unique personal style, her seductive charm, and her almost physical need to be constantly surrounded by people,’ Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale have written, ‘was to make her the magnetic centre, the feminine touchstone for one of the most gifted circles of artists Paris has ever known’ (A. Gold & R. Fizdale, Misia: The Life of Misia Sert, New York, 1980, p. 38).

Vuillard entered the Natansons’ orbit in 1891, when Thadée gave the artist his first solo show in the galleries of La Revue Blanche. Becoming friends with the couple—Misia especially—was like a religious conversion, life-changing and all-consuming, and by the middle of the decade Vuillard saw them almost daily. They provided him inside access to the very latest in arts and ideas, and they demonstrated a way of life—a taste and a culture—that fascinated the sheltered young artist. In his paintings of Misia, Vuillard eschewed the quiet contemplativeness of his family scenes and gloried instead in the luxury of the Natansons’ environment and the arresting personality of his model. ‘Vuillard’s vision of reality,’ Cogeval has written, ‘which melded bodies, faces, inanimate objects, flowers, draperies and light into a single texture, was developed and supported by his contact with Misia, whose appearance in the interiors he painted represented a daily miracle for him. His painting, even when Misia was not in the picture, was conditioned by the imprint in space of her passing’ (A. Salomon & G. Cogeval, op. cit., 2003, pp. 454-455).

In the present La femme au fauteuil (Misia et Thadée Natanson), Misia at once blends harmoniously into her surroundings and dominates the space around her—as in life, so in art. Vuillard devoted the entire foreground of the composition to his perennial muse, here more exquisite than ever. Thadée, in contrast, is reduced to a shadowy figure at the far right, standing with his arms propped on the end of the piano, his portly frame recognisable but his face blurred. The shimmering white silk of Misia’s dress, shot through with pale pink accents, stands out against the claret-coloured piano covering; visually linked to the ebony instrument by the black velvet bow on her bodice, she seems to be embraced by the floral textile, which stretches in a horizontal band across the canvas. The pale yellow wallpaper, its pattern repeated in the upholstery of the armchair, creates a halo around Misia’s head that echoes the golden tone of her hair, aglow in the evening lamplight. ‘Vuillard’s portrayals of Misia are orchestrated,’ Elizabeth Easton has observed, ‘so that all elements play a supporting role to her’ (E.W. Easton, op. cit., 1989, p. 109).

The painting captures the look and feel of the sprawling central room—at once parlour, music chamber, and salon—where Misia hosted her spirited weekly soirées on the rue Saint Florentin. In lieu of the prim refinement of their conventionally haut bourgeois childhood homes, Misia and Thadée embraced in their own shared space a cluttered and eclectic informality, suggestive of carefree, sensual abundance. In Vuillard’s subjective re-envisioning of this laden interior, where art and music reigned supreme, the densely layered patterns and textures knit together foreground and background, causing three-dimensional perspectival space to merge with the two-dimensional picture plane. ‘Space does not retreat before us; we can caress it,’ John Russell has written (J. Russell, Edouard Vuillard, exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1971, p. 59).

Passionate beneath his laconic exterior, Vuillard conjured from this highly charged space all the depth of emotion that he felt—yet never expressed— in Misia’s presence, penetrating the obscure life of the room to reveal the tensions and yearnings among its inhabitants. The shawl-covered piano here physically separates Misia from her husband, suggesting the emotional distance between them. Cast in shadow and pinioned against the rear wall, Thadée is excluded from the light-filled foreground space that Misia, viewed at close range, shares with the artist in a fantasy of his desire fulfilled. ‘It would be hard to find a more intensely personal expression of the emotion that Misia aroused in Vuillard and of the ties that bound him to her,’ Stuart Preston has written. ‘So strong and vivid was her personality, and so overwhelming its effects on him, that by contrast Thadée is reduced to a depersonalised coloured shape whose identity is almost lost against the lively pattern of the wallpaper’ (S. Preston, Edouard Vuillard, New York, 1985, p. 70).

Yet Misia, despite the intimacy of her friendship with Vuillard, remained closed to him on a profound level; her eyes are shut in the present painting, and she is lost in her own private reverie. ‘Uncertainty and conflicting desires. An abundance of memories,’ the artist recorded in his journal after an evening on the rue Saint Florentin in 1896, the same year that he painted this paean to Misia. ‘Tenderness, desires of work, ambitions, and sensualities’ (Vuillard, quoted in G. Cogeval et al., Edouard Vuillard, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2003, p. 429). Vuillard kept La femme au fauteuil (Misia et Thadée Natanson) in his studio until 1911, several years after the Natansons divorced and Misia faded from his life. He parted with the canvas only when asked to make a significant donation to an auction to raise funds for a monument to Cézanne, eventually executed by Maillol (see Christie’s New York, 3 November 2009, Lot 28). The present painting was subsequently acquired by Nathan Spingold, a motion-picture executive and dedicated patron of the arts, who gifted the canvas in 1957 to The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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