Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
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Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)

Les rues de Paris, panneaux pour Henry Bernstein: Première série, Passy

Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
Les rues de Paris, panneaux pour Henry Bernstein: Première série, Passy
La voiture d'arrosage
signed ‘E Vuillard’ (lower right)
peinture à la colle over charcoal on paper laid down on panel
78 1/8 x 26 7/8 in. (198.4 x 68.4 cm.)
Painted in May-July 1908

L'enfant au ruisseau
signed and dated 'E Vuillard 08’ (lower left)
peinture à la colle over charcoal on joined paper laid down on panel
78 ¾ x 18 5/8 in. (200 x 47.4 cm.)
Painted in May-July 1908

La Tour Eiffel
signed and dated ‘E Vuillard 08’ (lower left)
peinture à la colle over charcoal on joined paper laid down on panel
78 ¾ x 18 5/8 in. (200 x 47.4 cm.)
Painted in May-July 1908

La Rue
signed ‘E. Vuillard’ (lower right)
peinture à la colle over charcoal on paper laid down on panel
78 x 26 ¾ in. (198.2 x 68 cm.)
Painted in May-July 1908
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie, Paris (acquired from the artist, 28 September 1908).
Henry Bernstein, Paris and New York (acquired from the above, 14 December 1908 and until 1953).
Georges Bernstein Gruber, New York (by descent from the above).
Justin K. Thannhauser, New York (on consignment from the above, circa 1956).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, February 1958.
A. Segard, Peintres d’aujourd’hui: Les décorateurs, Paris, 1914, vol. II, p. 321 (dated 1910; incorrectly catalogued as six panels).
C. Roger-Marx, Vuillard et son temps, Paris, 1945, pp. 68, 140 and 188 (illustrated, pp. 152 and 153).
J. Salomon, Vuillard:, témoignage, Paris, 1945, p. 57.
A. Chastel, Vuillard, Paris, 1946, pp. 90, 106 and 115 (illustrated, pp. 72-73).
D. Wild, “Der ‘Intimist’ Vuillard als Monumentalmaler” in Werk, vol. 12, December 1947, p. 400.
C. Roger-Marx, Vuillard, Paris, 1948, p. 15.
A. Chastel, “Vuillard” in Art News Annual, vol. XXIII, 1954, p. 35 (illustrated).
J. Salomon, Vuillard admiré, Paris, 1961, p. 98 (illustrated, pp. 99-100).
J. Salomon, “Edouard Vuillard als Chronist seiner Epoche” in Du, vol. XXII, December 1962, p. 30.
R. Bacou, “Décors d’appartements au temps des Nabis” in Art de France, 1964, pp. 194 and 196 (illustrated, p. 194).
M.-C. Jalard, Le Post-Impressionnisme, Lausanne, 1966, p. 63.
R. Barilli, “Antologia” in L’Arte Moderna, vol. II, no. 18, 1967, p. 368 (two panels illustrated).
J. Dugdale, “Vuillard the Decorator, Last Phase” in Apollo, vol. LXXXVI, no. 68, October 1967, p. 272.
J. Salomon, Vuillard, Paris, 1968, pp. 25 and 108.
S. Preston, Edouard Vuillard, New York, 1974, p. 40 (two panels illustrated, fig. 55).
V.E. Barnett, The Guggenheim Museum: Justin K. Thannhauser Collection, New York, 1978, pp. 202-205.
L. Oakley, Edouard Vuillard, New York, 1981, p. 15.
M. Potter et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, pp. 44, 214-215 and 218, no. 73 (illustrated in color, pp. 216-217).
B. Thomson, Vuillard, Oxford, 1988, p. 104 (illustrated, pls. 93-96).
M. Makarius, Vuillard, Paris, 1989, p. 68 (two panels illustrated, p. 74).
G. Groom, Edouard Vuillard: Painter-Decorator, Patrons and Projects, 1892-1912, New Haven, 1993, pp. 3 and 165-177 (illustrated in color, p. 166, figs. 263-266).
M. Drutt, ed., Thannhauser: The Thannhauser Collection of the Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2001, p. 247-248.
G. Groom, Beyond the Easel: Decorative Painting by Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis and Roussel, 1890-1930, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 2001, p. 232 (two panels illustrated, figs. 1-2).
G. Cogeval, ed., Vuillard, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2003, pp. 306 and 308.
A. Salomon and G. Cogeval, Vuillard: Le regard innombrable, catalogue critique des peintures et pastels, Paris, 2003, vol. II, pp. 800-801 and 803-805, nos. VII-515.1-VII-515.4 (illustrated in color, pp. 800-801; illustrated again in situ in the Bernstein apartment, p. 805).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Vuillard, November 1908, no. 1.
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Edouard Vuillard, May-July 1938, no. 138 (titled Paysage de Paris).
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Lot Essay

These four views of Parisian streets, each more than six feet tall, constitute a major decorative ensemble that originally belonged to the playwright Henry Bernstein, the popular author of sensational melodramas for the French stage and an outspoken critic of anti-Semitism during the early twentieth century. Vuillard had been intensively involved in avant-garde theater in the 1890s, working closely with his friend Aurélien Lugné-Poe to forge a willfully non-naturalistic dramatic space for the staging of Symbolist plays. Now, in 1908, his taste in theater ran more to popular bourgeois comedies, and his work had become lighter and airier in mood—though no less daring in structure, and acute as ever in observation. In these four panels, the artist’s first decorative project in seven years, Vuillard experimented with a dramatic, plunging perspective and exceptionally loose handling to capture with great immediacy the spatial experience of the city streets, imparting something of the quality of stage sets to the life-sized vistas.
“The experience of making theater was not forgotten,” Belinda Thomson has written. “Its influence can be seen in Vuillard’s lasting aptitude for constructing effective mises-en-scène, for assembling a group in an interior setting so that it worked as a dramatic tableau as well as a decorative ensemble” (Vuillard, New York, 1988, p. 93).
The present paintings depict the quiet residential neighborhood of Passy, where Vuillard lived from October 1904 until July 1908. Unlike the bustling, middle-class quarter around the place des Batignolles where the artist spent most of his life, Passy was in Vuillard’s day the near-exclusive province of the haute bourgeoisie, who were attracted by its village-like atmosphere and proximity to the Bois de Boulogne. The only recognizable landmark in Vuillard’s views of the district is the Eiffel Tower in the distance of one panel, which he painted from the junction of the rue de Passy and the rue de la Tour, looking east toward the Champ de Mars. Vuillard’s principal interest here was neither the architecture nor the inhabitants of Passy, but rather the anonymous thoroughfares that provide passage through the area. “Vuillard does not set himself up as a flâneur,” Gloria Groom has written, “a specifically Parisian type associated with modern social life and the metropolis in the Third Republic, but as a private documentaliste to the more recently developed suburban avenues” (op. cit., 1993, p. 171).
Vuillard selected a street-level vantage point to convey the direct experience of a promeneur traversing Passy. The four panels all have a relatively open and empty foreground, which gives way to a rapid recession into the distance; the lines of the sidewalk and the street divide the pictures vertically, emphasizing the plunging perspective. Slightly above the midpoint of the composition, roughly at eye level, buildings or trees provide a stabilizing element that counters this rush into depth, as though the promeneur had paused to observe some quotidian vignette along the sleepy street—a child playing at the curb in one panel, a horse-drawn water cart in another. “One has the impression that these were scenes unfolding in front of the artist as he walked with pencil in hand,” Groom has commented, “transforming an ordinary sidewalk into an extraordinary image of urban space” (ibid., p. 170).
The panels were based on sketches and snapshots that Vuillard made sur le motif and then translated into monumental format back in his studio, creating two wider and two narrower scenes, all of equal height. To retain the freshness and immediacy of works conceived and realized from direct observation, Vuillard applied quick-drying distemper paint with a vigor and looseness that were unprecedented in his oeuvre at that time. Perhaps because the Passy paintings were not commissioned, he felt liberated to eschew the dense layering of his earlier decorative compositions and to explore new pictorial territory with great directness and freedom.
Vuillard sold the four finished panels in September 1908 to his dealers Gaston and Josse Bernheim, who lived a few blocks away from him in Passy on the avenue Henri-Martin. The works were exhibited at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in November, where they formed the centerpiece of a major solo show. Henry Bernstein, who may have been introduced to Vuillard’s work by Antoine Bibesco or any other of the artist’s many friends in theatrical circles, saw the panels on exhibit there. He purchased the entire ensemble to hang on the doors connecting the salon and the dining room in his opulent apartment on the boulevard Haussmann.
A few months later, Bernstein commissioned Vuillard to produce another set of four decorative cityscapes to coordinate with the present scenes. The artist delivered this second group of paintings, which depict the area around the Place Vintimille, to Bernstein in March 1910, the same year that Renoir made a portrait of the dapper dramatist, age thirty-four. Two of these later panels are offered in the present sale. “You can tell a man’s character by the way he decorates his home,” wrote a critic for the Cri de Paris upon viewing the entire ensemble in place. “On Mr. Bernstein’s walls there are works by Cézanne, Renoir, Vuillard, Roussel. His taste is revolutionary. He is the archetype of the modern man” (quoted in ibid., p. 176).
Although Bernstein sold the bulk of his art collection at the Hôtel Drouot in June 1911, three months after politically motivated riots forced the early closure of his play Après moi, he kept all eight paintings by Vuillard for nearly four more decades. After World War I, he and his family moved to a new apartment at 110, rue de l’Université, where the ensemble was installed in the dining room. In 1940, they fled to New York to escape the German Occupation and hung the panels on two walls in their bedroom. Bernstein sold the paintings to Justin Thannhauser, who in turn sold six of them—all four Passy views, seen here, plus two of the later panels—to Peggy and David Rockefeller in 1958. He donated the remaining pair of canvases to The Guggenheim Museum, where they remain today.
“We first hung the panels in our music room in Pocantico Hills,” David Rockefeller recalled, “but when we built our new home, Ringing Point, in Seal Harbor in 1970, we decided to take the panels there and to build our own dining room around them. In fact, we removed them from their frames and had them set into the walls, where they seem very much at home” (M. Potter et al., op. cit., 1984, p. 44).

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