The following group of Nabi and Post-Impressionist art includes paintings and works on paper by the leading 'Nabis', or 'prophets' of modern art in the 1890s, including Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Paul Ranson and Ker Xavier Roussel. Initially inspired by the work of Paul Gauguin, the movement explored the use of simplified drawing, flat patches of colour and bold contours to create highly charged, emotive scenes and atmospheres.
In particular, this collection is unique in its range of works on paper by Edouard Vuillard. Vuillard was a prolific draughtsmen, constantly sketching and drawing both what he saw in the world around him and what he could recall from memory, and both in subject matter and technique, this select group of works on paper succinctly exeplifies the primary concerns and characteristics of the artist's oeuvre.
In April 1890, an exhibition of Japanese prints and illustrated books at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts had an enormous impact on the Nabis, not least Vuillard. His works at that time, such as Le râteau, 1891, show an adoption of the abrupt framing and powerful contrast of flat planes of colour typical of the Japanes prints shown at the exhibition. A sudden outpouring of ink wash drawings appear in his journals and sketchbooks from this period. Project for a Poster for Phonographies, 1890, shows Vuillard's almost calligraphic use of line at this time, employing thick black outlines to separate fields of bright colour. According to Cogeval, this work predates a later project of 1894-1895, when he created ten widely acclaimed lithograph playbill covers for productions at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre.
Vuillard's powerful ability to create emotive atmospheres took more physical form when in the 1890s he became deeply invovled with avant-garde theatre productions in Paris, particularly at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre. During this time, the artist became a very accomplished set-designer, painting scenery on cardboard or wrapping paper. It was through this experimentation with set design that he learned what would become his signature medium, especially after 1905-1910, namely the use of distemper. Though he perfected this medium during his work with the theatre, he continued to use it on cardboard, canvas, and even on paper in his later career, and it is this medium which enabled the artist to create his characteristically brilliant colours, laid down on a matt ochre or grey background.
As the works in this collection make clear, Vuillard was very much aware of the cultural events and progressions of his contemporary Paris, but he also drew heavily on sources of inspiration found closer to home. Les couturières, 1891-1893, depicts an iconic subject matter of Vuillard's, that of seamstresses at work. Vuillard's mother was a seamstress and there were often women at their work in the Vuillard home; indeed it is the subject of one of the artist's earliest Nabi masterpieces, The Dressmakers, 1890. The abrupt framing of this work heightens the sense of intimate familiarity of the scene as indeed the perspective and framing often heighten the atmosphere of Vuillard's works. The simple flat planes outlined in La chambre de la grand-mère Michaud, 1893, do not construct a precisely perspectival space; as in his Nabi paintings, precise realism is not what concerns the artist here. Rather it is the manipulation of proportion, light and shadow to create a sensation of closeness and intimacy typical of Vuillard's interior scenes and portraits. Vuillard's much-beloved grandmother Michaud figured prominently in his early portraits, which capture a loving relationship. Significantly, the bed in this drawing is empty, and the hunched figure to the left is indistinct, shadowy and ghost-like. Michaud passed away in January 1893, a death which greatly affected the artist and inspired a set of lithographs as well as drawings such as this one, characterised by a sense of absence, mourning and loss - rendering the depiction of this particular intimate interior distinctly bittersweet.
Deux études de costume pour des personnages de la Coupe enchantée par Jean de La Fontaine: Anselme and Lelic