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'SELF-PORTRAIT WITH WHITE COLLAR'; WITH THE ATELIER STAMP LOWER RIGHT; OIL ON CANVAS.
This beautiful 1888 self-portrait of Edouard Vuillard is a prescient expression of the Nabi painter's intimist talent that would set him apart from his contemporaries. This naturalist portrait, painted while Vuillard studied under Franois Flameng at the Académie Julian, reveals the admiration he held at the time for the great figures of the Salon Officiel, most importantly Jules Bastien-Lepage and Jean André Rixens, the famous portraitist whom Vuillard admired for "his natural side and the perfect execution of his paintings"1 and for his love of the Old Masters, such as Jean Siméon Chardin and Henri Fantin-Latour, whose works he studied at the Louvre. From his early days as a painter, Vuillard often depicted his own likeness. He made several self-portraits between 1888 and 1890, all characterised by a certain academism imbued with both discretion and candour.
In Vuillard au col blanc, the artist portrays a bust of himself, wearing a neat, youthful red beard while emerging from a deep shadow. Despite the freshness and radiance of his face, it betrays a vibrantly intense gaze that testifies to a character that is, paradoxically, both anxious and self-confident -- not the look of a twenty-year-old. "That fire, which he could not quiet as with his feelings, burned with a stronger flame perhaps, but in secret2," as Vuillard's friend and collector Thadée Natanson, founder of La Revue Blanche, so beautifully said of the artist. In this accomplished early portrait, he already proves his gifts as a colourist skilled in shading.
With this painting, Vuillard solidly claims his stake in the French portrait tradition and uses a very unusual technique. Most likely by working the tone of the complexion with his fingers3, he was able to create great, intense subtlety, a telling first hint at his talents as a colourist. This touching and singular work honours his reputation as an intimist painter.
1 J. Salomon, Vuillard, Paris, 1945, p. 19.
2 T. Natanson, Peints à leur tour, Paris, 1948, quoted in J. Salomon, Vuillard, Paris, 1968, p. 101.
3 A. Salomon and G. Cogeval, Vuillard, le regard innombrable: Catalogue critique des peintures et pastels, Paris, 2003, vol. I, p. 46.