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La baignade à Etretat

La baignade à Etretat
signed and dated 'F.Vallotton.99' (lower right)
oil on board
19 5⁄8 x 25 1⁄2 in. (49.6 x 64.7 cm.)
Painted in 1899
The artist's estate (no. 78); sale, Sotheby's, London, 26 June 2001, lot 15.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Artist's Handlist, no. 408 (titled 'Divers sujets bains de mers, Etretat').
Le Cri de Paris, 8 April 1900, p. 5.
A. Fontainas, 'Art Moderne', in Mercure de France, May 1900, p. 544.
H. Hahnloser-Bühler, Félix Vallotton et ses amis, Paris, 1936, no. 408, p. 284 (illustrated fig. 35, p. 20; titled 'Bains de mer à Dinan' and incorrectly dated).
R. Escholier, La peinture française, XXe siècle, Paris, 1937, p. 17 (illustrated).
C. Estienne, 'Les arts. Tour d'expositions. Expositions d'ensemble' in Combat. De la Résistance à la Revolution, 26 March 1947, p. 2 (illustrated).
C. Chassé, Les Nabis et leur temps, Paris, 1960, no. 30, p. 182 (illustrated pl. 30; titled 'La Baignade' and catalogued with inverted dimensions).
G. Marussi, 'Odilon Redon e i Nabis' in Le Arti. Rassegna di attualità artistica, vol. XIII, no. 11, Milan, November 1963 (illustrated).
F. Jourdain, Félix Vallotton. Mit einer Studie von Edmond Jaloux, Zurich, 1967 (illustrated pl. 24).
R. Koella, Das Bild der Landschaft im Schaffen von Félix Vallotton. Wesen, Bedeutung, Entwicklung, dis., University of Zurich, 1969, vol. I, p. 107.
G. Guisan & D. Jakubac, Félix Vallotton. Documents pour une biographie et pour l'histoire d'une œuvre, Lausanne & Paris, 1973-1975, p. 214.
R. Micha, 'Paris. Félix Vallotton' in Art International, Lugano, vol. XX, no. 1-2, January - February 1976, p. 64.
R. Jullian, Le mouvement des arts du romantisme au symbolisme. Arts visuels, musique, littérature, Paris, 1979, p. 451.
A. Saint James, Félix Vallotton, The Nabi Years, dis., Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, 1982, no. 85, pp. 248 & 308.
G. Busch, B. Dorival, P. Grainville & D. Jakubec, Vallotton, Lausanne, 1985, no. 60, p. 233 (illustrated p. 56).
M. Ducrey, Félix Vallotton, la vie, la technique, l'œuvre peint, Lausanne, 1989, pp. 78 & 161 (illustrated p. 79).
A. Ellridge, Gauguin et les Nabis, Paris, 1993, p. 192 (illustrated; incorrectly dated '1897').
Exh. cat., Le très singulier Vallotton, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon & Musée Cantini, Marseille, 2001, p. 100.
Exh. cat., R. Koella, Félix Vallotton, Les couchers de soleil, Kunstmuseum, Bern & Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Martigny, 2004, p. 109 (illustrated fig. 4).
M. Ducrey & K. Poletti, Félix Vallotton, l'œuvre peint, vol. II, Lausanne, 2005, no. 275, p. 168 (illustrated p. 169).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Nabis, April 1900, no. 9 (titled 'Le bain').
Halle (Saale), Kunstsalon Asmann, March - April 1902.
Paris, Galerie Druet, Exposition Félix Vallotton, Peintures 1886-1919, May - June 1923, no. 31 (titled 'Baigneurs').
Basel, Kunsthalle, René Auberjonois, Albert Kohler, Alexander Soldenhoff, Félix Vallotton, May 1926, no. 157 (titled 'Baigneurs').
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Félix Vallotton, January - February 1928, no. 27 (titled 'Baigneurs', catalogued with inverted dimensions and incorrect medium).
Paris, Galerie Druet, Vallotton inconnu, Œuvres exécutées par Félix Vallotton entre 1884 et 1909, April - May 1929, no. 38 (illustrated; 'Le bain').
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Manière inattendue des peintres, March 1947.
Bern, Kunsthalle, Die Maler der Revue blanche, Toulouse-Lautrec und die Nabis, March - April 1951, no. 138 (titled 'Baignade' and catalogued with incorrect dimensions).
London, Wildenstein & Co., Ltd., Paris in the Nineties, May - June 1954, no. 87 (illustrated; titled 'La baignade' and catalogued with inverted dimensions); this exhibition later travelled to Vevey, Musée Jenisch, July - September 1954, no. 150 (illustrated; titled 'La baignade').
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Bonnard, Vuillard et les nabis, June - October 1955, no. 170, p. 68 (titled 'La baignade' and incorrectly catalogued as 'signed and dated lower left').
Basel, Kunsthalle, Félix Vallotton, January - February 1957, no. 41 (titled 'Baignade à Etretat'); this exhibition later travelled to Dusseldorf, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, March - April 1957, no. 24.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Edouard Vuillard, October - November 1959, no. 207, p. 57 (titled 'Il Bagno' and incorrectly catalogued as 'signed and dated lower left').
Paris, Salon d'Automne, Exposition rétrospective des œuvres de Félix Vallotton, October - November 1963, no. 26 (titled 'le Bain').
Mannheim, Kunsthalle, Die Nabis und ihre Freunde, October 1963 - January 1964, no. 278 (illustrated; titled 'Baigneurs à Etretat').
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Félix Vallotton, April - May 1965, no. 52, p. 71 (illustrated pl. XVI; titled 'Baigneurs à Etretat').
Paris, Galerie de Paris, La cage aux Fauves du Salon d'automne 1905, October - November 1965.
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Vallotton, October - November 1966, no. 30, pp. 41-42 (illustrated; incorrectly catalogued as 'signed lower left'); this exhibition later travelled to Charleroi, Palais des beaux-arts, December 1966 - January 1967.
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Félix Vallotton, April 1970, no. 17 (illustrated pl. 17; titled 'Bathing in the Sea').
Honfleur, Grenier à sel, Félix Vallotton, July - August 1973, no. 2 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Arts plastiques modernes, Félix Vallotton, 1975 - 1976.
Winterthur, Kunstmuseum, Félix Vallotton, October - November 1978, no. 34 (titled 'Baigneurs à Étretat'); this exhibition later traveled to: Bremen, Kunsthalle, December 1978 - January 1979; Dusseldorf, Kunsthalle, February - March 1979; Paris, Musée du Petit Palais, April - June 1979; Geneva, Musée Rath, July - September 1979.
Paris, Galerie La Cave, Les nabis, April - July 1980, no. 36.
Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Musée du Prieuré, L'éclatement de l'impressionnisme, October 1982 - January 1983, no. 89 (titled 'La baignade').
New York, Wildenstein & Co., La revue blanche, Paris in the days of Post-Impressionism and Symbolism, November - December 1983, p. 87 (illustrated p. 38; catalogued with inverted dimensions).
Honfleur, Musée Eugène Boudin, Félix Vallotton, Honfleur et la Normandie, July - October 1999, no. 3, p. 74 (illustrated p. 34).

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Micol Flocchini
Micol Flocchini Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

‘Félix Vallotton watches Etretat through the gaze of one of the most brilliant members of the Nabis group’ (B. Delarue, Les Peintres à Etretat, 1786-1940, Paris, 2014, p. 17): there is no doubt that La Baignade à Etretat is a definitive example of the enduring influence of the Nabis on Vallotton’s later artistic production. Active from 1888, the Nabis were a group of avant-garde painters which counted among its members Paul Sérusier, Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Félix Vallotton and Edouard Vuillard. When looking at this work, it comes as no surprise that, while in Etretat, the artist was visited by fellow Nabis member Vuillard and by Thadée Nathanson, a journalist affiliated with the group. The acidic tones, flat perspective and large patches of colour most noticeable in the shore of the beach were all elements favoured by the Nabis. During his time in Etretat, the presence of Vuillard and Nathanson, both closely associated with the group, certainly played a crucial role in the execution of this work.
When this exquisite picture was painted in 1899, Félix Vallotton was spending his honeymoon with his wife Gabrielle on the beaches of Etretat, a maritime town on the coast of Normandy favoured by the Parisian bourgeoisie and by artists of the caliber of Courbet and Monet. A crucial moment in the development of his artistic production, it was at this time that Vallotton, then aged 34, decided to fully commit to painting, temporarily abandoning his more profitable activity as an engraver. The vivid colours and playful subjects he encountered in the summer of 1899 must have resonated profoundly with the Swiss artist, who incorporated the bright palette of Etretat in his contemporary and later works.
The joy and playfulness intrinsic to the life of a newly-wed are magnificently reflected in the humorous tone and dynamic composition of this work. This picture is a telling example of Vallotton’s ability to convey movement through the skillful use of diagonal and horizontal lines. The red towel thrown on the beach, the rocky shore, the white waves and the sun’s reflection on the swimsuits of the bathers: these contrasting shapes help bring a sense of energy and vitality to the composition, warmly inviting the gaze of the viewer within this bustling and animated scene. The reds, blacks and blues of the bathers’ swimsuits mix with the dark greens of the waves in a highly contrasting and lively palette.
At least twenty figures are engaged in various activities on the sunny beach of Etretat: a woman spreading her towel on the rocks, various bathers entering the water, a child swimming with great difficulty on the right while throwing his hands in the air, likely disturbing the poor woman sitting on the shore on the right. The comedic array of characters shown in this picture offers viewers a fascinating snapshot of what life must have been like on the beaches of Etretat in the late 19th century.
One can imagine that, as most newly-weds, Vallotton himself would have wanted to capture the memory of these happy moments on camera: he likely did so with the brand new Kodak which he had recently bought and with which he had just started to experiment in Etretat. His friend and fellow painter Vuillard, in a letter sent to Vallotton in 1899, would later thank the artist for sending him photographs which, in his own words, ‘make me very happy’ (Clement Cheroux et al., Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard, London, 2011, p. 178). It seems reasonable to think that, when painting this work, the artist may have taken inspiration from photographs he had taken during his holiday – two of these, both depicting the beach at Etretat (now in the archives Vallotton and in a private collection), seem to depict the exact same scene as the present painting. While using these pictures as stylistic and compositional sources of inspiration, the liveliness and energy that are intrinsic to this work suggest that the artist must have nuanced these photographic records with the colourful memories he made during this particularly special moment of his life.
Five years after the completion of this picture and Vallotton’s honeymoon in Etretat, it seems that these joyful times were still very much present in the artist’s mind. In fact, it only takes a closer look at the background of Vallotton’s later work Femme écrivant, painted in 1904, to distinguish La Baignade à Etretat hanging on the wall of his home. This meaningful inclusion is a crucial testament to the relevance of the summer of 1899, as well as of the present picture, within the artist’s personal and artistic development.

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