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La visiteuse

La visiteuse
stamped with the artist’s signature ‘Vuillard’ (Lugt 2497a; lower right)
peinture à la colle on canvas
28 3/8 x 23 5/8 in. (72.2 x 60.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1907-1908
The artist's estate.
Georges Maratier, Paris, 1945.
Galerie Katia Granoff, Paris.
Augusto Lopes Veira de Abreu, Porto.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 4 December 1974, lot 15.
Cyril Segal, Israel, by whom acquired at the above sale, and thence by descent to the present owner.
A. Salomon & G. Cogeval, Vuillard: The Inexhaustible Glance, Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, vol. II, Paris, 2003, no. VII-368, p. 722 (illustrated).
Bern, Kunsthalle, Edouard Vuillard, Alexander Müllegg, June - July 1946, no. 15 (titled 'Visite').
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Vuillard, October 1946, no. 20 (titled 'La visite').

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Annie Wallington
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Lot Essay

Looking at this scene taking place in the Hessels’ grand apartment located on rue de Rivoli in Paris, opulence, culture and modernity spring to mind. As one of the key characteristics of the salon paintings executed by Vuillard in the first quarter of the 20th century, the artist depicts Parisian upper-class society by giving his viewer access to the Hessels’ private salons and art collections through his compositions of 'paintings within a painting'. La visiteuse of circa 1907-1908 is an outstanding example of this type of painting, standing out like a vibrant mosaic of warm colours, patterns and shapes that define the pictorial space. As in other salon paintings, by using the wall of paintings as a main feature of the overall composition, Vuillard underscores the Hessels’ wealth and their seminal role as art patrons, highlighting their avant-garde taste.
In this mesmerizing interior, in addition to emphasising Jos and Lucy Hessel’s contribution as a patron of the artistic revolution at the turn of the 20th century, Vuillard also celebrates more generally the achievements of modernity. Allusions to the transition from photography to cinematography, resulting from the revolution in technology, feature in the present work, particularly with the soft effusive mood provided by the artificial light of the two lamps, along with the snapshot view of the scene. The radical changes brought by the industrial revolution, such as the invention of electricity, replacing gas lighting, are clearly referred to in this painting by the weak electric bulbs behind the lampshades.
Comfortably seated in her fashionable crimson red dress, we see Lucy Hessel, sitting lower left, in front of her equally elegantly dressed visitor as she converses with an expressive arm gesture, perhaps relaying a societal story of the day. ‘The visit’ is a subject Vuillard had reflected on ever since his youth (Salomon & Cogeval: no. IV-5 & no. VII-13) and captured again here masterfully in his signature peinture à la colle (or distemper) technique, that Vuillard had attributed to Lugné-Poe in a handwritten note: ‘“… I owe him a very special gratitude. He gave me the opportunity, while I was helping in a small way with the impoverished fabrication of sets for his earliest shows, to discover a method of painting with distemper, which was to prove extremely valuable to me in my own work”’ (exh. cat. Vuillard, New Haven & London, p. 13).

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