Visual Whispers

The South Bank Centre‘s touring exhibition of Vuillard is the first retrospective ofthe French artist for more than 40 years. Sarah Knox . explains why it should have ' happenedsooner

lfyou‘re into hedonism. don’t miss the current i V'uillard exhibition at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. In this selection ofover 100 images. the viewer becomes a voyeur peeping into cluttered corners of Vuillard‘s rooms. , eavesdropping on conversations between his ' friends. or looking over his shoulder from a

familiar balcony. Vuillard was an artist obsessed with recording the immediate world around him g and it is significant that Belinda Thomson the i Curator of the exhibition eases her audience into 3 his work by presenting photographs taken by ' Vuillard in the late 1890s. She defends their inclusion because ‘Vuillard as a person and painter I are incxtricable; his photography informed his

view of the world. and he painted his surroundings so that his work became an understated form of autobiography.’

Born in 1868. Vuillard was a member ofa group ofpainters. known as Les Nabis (The Prophets). who broke away from naturalistic painting. preferring to concentrate on the idea or emotion inspired by a scene or object. Much of his work in the 1890s focused on the theme of home and he frequently painted his mother (a corset maker) intent on her sewing amidst a guddle of fabrics and garments. In such canvases. the subject matter is to some extent lost on a surface which primarily balances shapes. patterns. textures and shifting light in touches ofcolour or tonality.

Thomson whose research for the exhibition uncovered several 'lost‘ \t'uillards— believes that the artist‘s appeal is in his ability to 'see afresh something very ordinary". Glance quickly at Madame Via/lard Arranging her Hair and you are mesmerized by the loud pattern of the carpet. the busy print of her dress and reflections in the mirror. Work harder and you see a careful composition. the model viewed obliquely from behind and a surface articulated by the contrasts of light and dark. It is fitting that critics in the past have romantically spoken of ‘the soul of a [Vuillard] interior‘. ofcanvases that ‘whisper. . . confidences‘ to the viewer.

Vuillard was appreciated in his own time.

attracting the attention ofwealthy patrons. and the works on show here give a good indication of his social world. His compositions become steadily ;

* hang.

Madame Vuillard Arranging her Hair (1900)

more self-conscious. recording.voirees. house parties and sumptuous apartments. and including casual portraits of friends. These images document ‘la belle epoque‘. a time of comfort and indulgence before the First World War. But there are also. says Thomson. ‘undercurrents in these cosy images' and indeed \"uillard's repeated photographs and paintings of Misia Natanson and Lucie llessel hint at his emotional involvement

I“, i ;~-

with the wivesof his patrons. Despite the distractions of this boulevardier lifestyle. \"ui||ard continued to believe in himself as a painter and constantly experimented to develop his work. He achicv ed a strong decorative quality by adopting a process used by theatrical scene painters: ‘eollc' is a quick-drying distemper which. when mixed with dry pigment on card or paper. creates chalky tnatt colours. The overall effect is of muted tones and the paintings become . decoratiy e and merge into the rooms in which they


The Mantelpiece (1905)

When asked which of \'ui|lard‘s paintings she would like to live with. Thomson mentions two still-life oils which normally hang in the Scottish National (iallery of Modern A rt. and praises the ‘wonderful sense of relaxation in his landscapes. In fact the question is an unfair one: the strength of all of Vuillard's paintings is in their ability to make us fall in love with an almost inexpressible moment of time and to touch upon emotions that we tend only to whisper. lidouard l'ui/lard (Mots-1040) is at l/lt' Glasgow Art Gallery and .lltm'ton. Kc/i‘ingrot'e until 30 October. (‘ontact the Education Department (04/ .334 l/J’I)

I/ordctai/s offline/Hone lectures ll'flft'll complement I/It' (fit/Uhtiitnl (HI Her/.7 and H't'tf Q ()t‘lufn'r.

The List 27 September

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