Considered then, as now, to be Felix Vallotton's graphic masterpiece, the Intimits series was published when the artist was just 33 years old. Vallotton had been shown the technique of woodcutting by his friend Charles Maurin, and he quickly saw it as a vehicle of expression ideally suited to the proliferation of cheap, mass-market publications. During the late 1890's his work appeared in over a dozen publications, such as L'Escaramouche, Le Rire, Scribners and The Chap Book. It was the Nabis inspired Revue blanche, however, that provided Vallotton with his most sympathetic environment, and it was they who published the series in 1898.
At first glance one might be tempted to dismiss Intimits as late Victorian sentimentality, particularly in view of the title, and the narrowly focused domestic subject matter. Closer inspection reveals how paradoxical, and deeply critical a work of art it is. Our suspicions are raised by the titles, which far from helping the viewer to understand each scene serve to confuse and undermine the images. A man addressing a woman is entitled Money, a scene described as Getting Ready for a Visit shows a couple, yet only the woman is preparing to go out. Perhaps most shockingly, an image of a tender embrace is simply called The Lie. What exactly the role of money is, or what the lie is about is not made clear, but Vallotton is obviously implying that bourgeois marriage, and by extension relationships between men and women is a sham, a failure. He is careful to subtly change the appearance of his characters, lest we mistake the series as a narrative on one particular relationship. He is pointing the finger at a class, not individuals.
The handling of the space gives each image a strongly theatrical aspect, adding to the impression that we are watching a drama. On one level this appealed to the vogue for stories of infidelity and betrayal which were incredibly popular at the time, but on a deeper level it suggests intimacy is an act. From this standpoint, the interiors are not cosy, but claustrophobic, the accumulated domestic furniture seeming to trap the inhabitants.
A comparison with Vallotton's contemporary Edvard Munch is instructive. Unlike Munch, whose anguished depictions of the battle between man and woman cannot help but provoke a strong emotional response, Vallotton keeps us at arm's length. The dense opaque blacks do not allow us below the surface. He invites us to be a voyeur, but only at a distance.
Perhaps the greatest paradox, however, is the subsequent fate of the the artist. Within a year of publication Vallotton abandoned his working-class lover to marry the daughter of a wealthy art dealer. This was to put him at the centre of the social group he had so effectively criticised here.