In 1900, Edouard Vuillard had his first solo exhibition at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery and entered a new social milieu of wealthy patrons who gradually established him as one of the most sought-after portraitists in inter-war Paris. The painter became friendly with Jos Hessel, one of the gallery directors, and his wife, Lucy. The couple frequently invited Vuillard to their spacious apartment on the rue de Rivoli and their estates in Normandy and Brittany. Although he remained close with his fellow Nabis, the somber, petit-bourgeois interiors that won the painter acclaim during the 1890s gave way to brighter and more realistic views of opulent homes and in situ portraits of the bankers, actresses, and aristocrats that occupied them.
Géraniums et boules-de-neige, which dates from this transitional period, depicts a lively bouquet of red geraniums, a pair of mums, and bursts of white hydrangeas set in a light, airy interior. This canvas documents Vuillard's heightened attention to the spatial atmosphere of his settings and the details of specific material objects. His colleague Paul Signac noted the transformation of Vuillard's style and commented that "[Vuillard's] deftly noted interiors have great charm. He has a marvelous understanding of the timbre of things. They're the work of a fine painter... The contrast of tine, the skillfully achieved chiaroscuro--these balance a scheme of color which is always unusual and delicate" (quoted in J. Rewald, "Diaries of Paul Signac," Gazette des Beaux-Arts, April 1952). A.C. Ritchie later wrote about Vuillard's canvases from this period:
From the poetic tensions that so mark the Mallarméan years, 1893 to about 1900, he moves into a more relaxed, ostensibly less melancholy mood. His pictures reflect his new connections with the fashionable world as opposed to the old life of café discussion, literary inspiration and the close, germinal atmosphere of his own private existence at home... The reduced tension is often charming. His looser brushwork and more obvious color arrangements often result in a delightful, even gay, picture which is far removed from the brooding harmonies of many of the earlier, small panels" (in Edouard Vuillard, New York, 1954, p.24).
Although Vuillard's style changed considerably at this time, his preferred subject matter, the poetics of domestic settings, essentially remained the same. The changes to the structure of his works and his more nuanced depiction of depth gave fresh air and light to his interiors. The flatness of his earliest canvases appears here in a new guise, and reflects the optical foreshortening that Vuillard derived from his experiments with photography. Using a portable Kodak camera, he took numerous snapshots that became the basis of future paintings. This photographic approach to his subject matter can be seen in the radical cropping in the present work. This new sense of space moreover reflects Vuillard's longtime interest in paintings by Chardin and 17th-century Dutch artists such as Jan Steen and Jan Vermeer, whose works he first observed and sketched at the Louvre in 1888, a year before he associated with the Nabis circle. No longer encumbered with Symbolist dogma, Vuillard was free to explore, as his predecessors had done before him, the palpable qualities of things close up and record them in paint, simply and straightforwardly, as he experienced them in every day, natural light.