This pastel will be included in the forthcoming Vuillard catalogue raisonné being prepared by Antoine Salomon and Guy Cogeval under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
Alongside his brother, Gaston, Josse Hessel ran Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. Actively seeking out gifted contemporaries and tirelessly promoting their artists works by way of garnering patrons and commissions, the Hessels were among the most prominent art dealers of their time. Vuillard first met the Hessel brothers, and Josse's wife, Lucie, while visiting Félix Vallotton near Lausanne. A quick and strong bond formed between them, and they quickly became inseparable. They spent nearly every evening together at the Hessel's Paris apartment, travelled to Brittany or Normandy together during the summertime, and years later Vuillard would become a semi-permanent guest at their country homes just outside of Paris.
The exact nature of Vuillard's relationship with the Hessel's, which lasted some forty years, has given rise to much speculation. Many likened Vuillard's situation to that of a "bird in a gilded cage", for the Hessels countered Vuillard's provincialism with an array of wealthy friends made up of publishers, theatre people, stockbrokers, and successful businessmen and their families. However an explanation lies in the almost lover-like relationship Vuillard had with Lucie Hessel. Fondly known as "dragon", Lucie was a handsome woman and utterly devoted to Vuillard. Despite Josse's consistent philandering, Lucie never ceased to remain by his side, and Vuillard's journal entries provide no hint of any secret relationship between the two friends. However Lucie came to dominate Vuillard's daily existence. She organized the soical side of his life, often arranging visitors to the artist's studio for lunches or teas and numerious other engagements that some criticized as distractions. Gradually taking over the roll the artist's mother once held, Madame Vuillard was said to have been jealous of her presence in her son's life. He painted Lucie nearly as often as he painted his mother.
Beyond his celebrated Nabi interiors of the 1890s, Vuillard chose the intimate space of the home or studio as his primary means of representation. These interiors provided Vuillard with a place to explore his everyday experiences, and to record the mechinations of family life which for Vuillard, aroused the most powerful emotions.
In the present work Lucie Hessel is depicted reading seated in an armchair in Vuillard's studio. Surrounded by the artist's works, the largest composition which hangs above the work table at right is readily identifiable as Vuillard's 1912 composition, L'enfant au bonnet bleu. In this work Lucie and her cousin Marcelle Aron are seen with Denise Natanson, the daughter of the Alfred and Misia Natanson, in an interior in Loctudy, a popular day trip destination in Brittany.
(fig. 1) Edouard Vuillard, L'enfant au bonnet bleu, 1912.
(Christie's, New York, 9 November 1999, lot 248).