Property from the Estate of William Kelly Simpson
“I have always been shy in your presence, but the security, the assurance of a perfect understanding relieved me of all embarrassment; nothing was lost by this understanding being a wordless one.”
So wrote the typically reticent Vuillard, with unexpected candor, to the prodigiously charismatic and alluring Misia Natanson, his perennial muse and the object of his unrequited infatuation during the last years of the nineteenth century. Vuillard’s enchantment with Misia, who constituted the very epicenter of Paris’s most advanced artistic and literary circle at this time, finds its most poignant and intimate expression in the present interior, a polyphony of color and texture that represents both a lyric sublimation of the artist’s intense emotions and a fantasy of his desires fulfilled. “Nowhere is Misia more beautiful than in this elaborate, elegant composition,” Guy Cogeval has declared (A. Salomon and G. Cogeval, op. cit., 2003, p. 502).
Misia occupies the foreground of this extraordinary painting, her exquisite profile pale and radiant in the light from an unseen window. She is rendered in close proximity to the painter yet seemingly unaware of his presence, gazing out of the image to the right as she dips into a blue-and-white porcelain bowl of coffee or chocolate. Behind her, isolated on a separate plane and turned in the opposite direction, is the painter Félix Vallotton, who also had a charged and flirtatious relationship with Misia. Perhaps Vallotton appears here as a proxy for Vuillard himself, or as a friendly rival for Misia’s divided affections; in either event, the simultaneous nearness and disengagement of the two protagonists suggests a certain ambiguity in their relationship. “Uncertainty and conflicting desires. An abundance of memories,” Vuillard recorded in his journal after an evening with Misia in 1896. “Tenderness, desires of work, ambitions and sensualities” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2003, p. 429).
The third character in this intricately contrived pictorial drama is Misia’s husband Thadée, co-founder of the influential literary journal La Revue Blanche, whose portly frame and pipe are recognizable at the far left of the composition. Misia turns her back on Thadée as he converses with Vallotton, implying his limited significance in her emotional world; Vuillard, likewise, has reduced him almost to a non-presence, radically cropping the image so that only a sliver of his form remains visible. “There is nothing quite like this composition,” Cogeval has written, “in painting of the 1890s; it is the sort of image more readily deciphered in terms of Nouvelle Vague cinema or the Nouveau Roman. The framing could hardly be less classical; the subject of the picture is what happens to the subject” (A. Salomon and G. Cogeval, op. cit., 2003, p. 502).
Vuillard first entered the Natansons’ orbit in 1891, when Thadée—a keen advocate of the band of young avant-garde painters who called themselves the Nabis—gave him his first solo show in the offices of La Revue Blanche. In 1893, Thadée married Misia, a gifted pianist and born iconoclast, who quickly became the muse and darling of the worldly, intellectual society that revolved around La Revue Blanche. “Her position, combined with her unique personal style, her seductive charm, and her almost physical need to be constantly surrounded by people, was to make her the magnetic center, the feminine touchstone for one of the most gifted circles of artists Paris has ever known,” Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale have observed (Misia: The Life of Misia Sert, New York, 1980, p. 38).
For Vuillard, his deepening relationship with the Natansons was like a religious conversion, life-changing and all-consuming. By the middle of the decade, he saw them almost daily. They purchased his work in quantity and recommended him unreservedly to friends; they afforded him inside access to the very latest in arts and ideas, and they demonstrated a way of life—a taste and a culture—that fascinated the young artist. In his paintings of Misia, Vuillard eschewed the quiet contemplativeness of his family scenes and gloried instead in the luxury of the Natansons’ environment and the arresting personality of his model. “Vuillard’s vision of reality,” Cogeval has written, “which melded bodies, faces, inanimate objects, flowers, draperies and light into a single texture, was developed and supported by his contact with Misia, whose appearance in the interiors he painted represented a daily miracle for him. His painting, even when Misia was not in the picture, was conditioned by the imprint in space of her passing” (A. Salomon and G. Cogeval, op. cit., 2003, pp. 454-455).
Misia et Vallotton à Villeneuve was long thought to be set in the Natansons’ home on the rue Saint-Florentin in Paris, in the sprawling central room—at once parlor, music chamber, and salon—where Misia hosted her spirited weekly soirées for the painters, poets, composers, and critics of La Revue Blanche. “Her apartment in the rue Saint-Florentin became familiar to everyone in Paris who was a partisan of the new and the good,” John Russell has written (Edouard Vuillard, exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1971, p. 55). Photographs of this eclectically decorated space, crowded and comfortable rather than conventionally refined, show the same ebulliently patterned, Arts and Crafts wallpaper, probably a French adaptation of a William Morris design. In the background of the present painting, hung unframed on top of the wallpaper like a portable textile, is Le pot de grès, part of a suite of five richly textured decorative panels, collectively known as the Album, that the Natansons commissioned from Vuillard in late 1894 for the rue Saint-Florentin flat (Cogeval and Salomon, no. V-96.5).
The jaunty informality of the protagonists’ dress in the present scene, however, is far more suitable to a holiday retreat than an urban gathering. The typically fastidious Vallotton wears a blue work-jacket, while Misia is clad in a yellow neck kerchief and a casual, checkered Liberty-style smock. A small dog paws at her lap for a share of her meal, suggesting an intimate morning ritual that Vuillard and Vallotton were on hand to witness. Rather than the rue Saint-Florentin apartment, the painting almost certainly depicts the Natansons’ country home at Villeneuve-sur-Yonne in Burgundy, which was papered as well with some of Misia’s favorite patterns and where the paintings of the Album were brought each summer and fall. Here, the circle of La Revue Blanche gathered in the warm months for lengthy villégiatures—an extension of the intellectually vibrant life that they led in Paris, transported into refreshingly rustic and relaxed surroundings.
In 1899, the year that he painted Misia et Vallotton, Vuillard spent his fourth consecutive summer as one of Thadée and Misia’s most favored house guests. “By now I had done some sorting out and invited, above all, those chosen by my heart,” Misia recalled. “Vuillard and Bonnard installed themselves chez moi once and for all, and Toulouse-Lautrec came regularly from Saturday to Tuesday” (quoted in op. cit., 1980, p. 56). Vuillard had recently acquired a Kodak hand-held camera, and he used it at Villeneuve as another way—alongside painting—of reconciling his strong feelings for his hostess. “Vuillard’s photographs of Misia,” Elizabeth Easton has written, “allowed the artist the luxury of extending indulgence in the moment—that instant captured by the camera—over a long period of time and of exploring sensual impressions in a way that momentary observation precludes” (exh. cat., op. cit., 2003, pp. 429-430).
Misia et Vallotton represents a veritable paean to these months at Villeneuve, as creatively vital as they were personally fraught. Although the three protagonists are each conspicuously isolated within the scene, their relations laden with tension and ambiguity, the overall ambiance of the painting is one of sensual abundance—an allegory of life in the Natanson home, where music, poetry, and art reigned supreme. “I’m actually doing a lot of painting and in spite of moments of despair, misgiving,” Vuillard wrote to Vallotton during the summer of 1899. “I think I shall be able to bring back a few pictures” (quoted in ibid., p. 216).
The densely layered patterns and textures knit together foreground and background in this richly orchestrated scene, causing three-dimensional perspectival space to merge with the two-dimensional picture plane. “Space does not retreat before us; we can caress it,” Russell has written (exh. cat., op. cit., 1971, p. 59). Vallotton’s head intersects with the decorative canvas that hangs on the back wall, and the vase of chrysanthemums in the painted panel is echoed by the “real” bouquet on the sideboard below. Misia’s yellow scarf connects her visually to the wallpaper, while Vallotton’s blue jacket frames her body and separates her from the encompassing floral pattern with an arabesque curve. Misia at once blends harmoniously into her surroundings and dominates the space around her—as in life, so in art.
Late in her life, after her marriage to Thadée and two subsequent unions had ended in divorce, Misia published an autobiography—extravagantly unreliable in the details—in which she recalled a twilight walk that she had taken with Vuillard at Villeneuve long ago. “Solemn and dreamy, Vuillard led me along the river through the tall, silvery birches. I think we did not speak. He advanced slowly in the yellowing grass and I unconsciously respected his silence. Our silhouettes, side by side, were still shadows against the pale sky. The ground became rough under our feet. I caught my heel on a root and almost fell. Vuillard stopped short to help me regain my balance. Suddenly our eyes met. In the growing darkness I could see only the gleam of his sad eyes. He burst into sobs. It was the most beautiful declaration of love any man ever made to me” (quoted in A. Gold and R. Fizdale, op. cit., 1980, p. 68).
Property from the Estate of William Kelly Simpson
Misia et Vallotton à Villeneuve
signed and dated 'E Vuillard. 99' (upper right)
Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
London, New Gallery, Fifth Exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, January-February 1905, p. 32, no. 263 (titled Intérieur et personnages).
Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Les Sources du XXe siècle: les arts en Europe de 1884 à 1914, November 1960-January 1961, p. 246, no. 740 (illustrated).
Tokyo, National Museum of Art and Kyoto Municipal Museum, French Art in Japan: 1840-1940, November 1961-January 1962, p. 100, no. 246 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
Kunsthalle Mannheim, Die Nabis und ihre Freunde: Les Nabis et leurs amis, October 1963-January 1964, no. 312 (illustrated).
Munich, Haus der Kunst and Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Edouard Vuillard: Xavier Roussel, March-September 1968, p. 70, no. 54 and p. 95, no. 104, respectively (illustrated, p. 153 and p. 190, respectively).
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., La revue blanche: Paris in the Days of Post-Impressionism and Symbolism, A Loan Exhibition for the Benefit of the School of American Ballet, November-December 1983, p. 88 (illustrated in color, p. 6; titled Misia, Vallotton and Thadée Natanson).
Houston Museum of Fine Arts; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection and The Brooklyn Museum, The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard, November 1989-April 1990, no. 92 (titled Misia and Vallotton in the Dining Room, rue Saint-Florentin).
The Katonah Gallery, The Intimate Eye of Edouard Vuillard, May-August 1989, p. 46, no. 9 (illustrated in color, p. 12; titled Misia, Vallotton, and Thadée Natanson).
Philadephia Museum of Art, Masterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection, May-September 1989, pp. 112 and 198 (illustrated, fig. 169; titled Misia, Vallotton and Thadée Natanson).
Houston Museum of Fine Arts, A Magic Mirror: The Portrait in France, 1700-1900, October 1986-January 1987, no. 47 (titled Portrait of Misia Natanson and Félix Vallotton).
Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection and The Brooklyn Museum, The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard, November 1990-June 1990, p. 122, no. 92 (illustrated in color, p. 123; titled Misia and Vallotton in the Dining Room, rue Saint Florentin).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais and London, Royal Academy of Arts, Edouard Vuillard, January 2003-April 2004, pp. 188 and 216, no. 147 (illustrated in color, p. 217; detail illustrated in color, p. 491).
(possibly) Wuppertal, Von der Heydt-Museum, Pierre Bonnard: Magier der Farbe, September 2010-January 2011.
New York, The Jewish Museum, Edouard Vuillard: A Painter and His Muses, 1890-1940, May-September 2012, p. 16 (illustrated in color).
T. Leclère, “Edouard Vuillard” in Art et Décoration, vol. 38, no. 226, October 1920, p. 98 (illustrated; titled M. Valloton et Mme S...).
R. Escholier, La Peinture française: vingtième siècle, Paris, 1937, p. 18 (illustrated; titled Vallotton et Missia Godebska).
A. Chastel, Vuillard, Paris, 1946, p. 122 (illustrated, p. 43; titled Vallotton et Missia Godebska).
C. Roger-Marx, Vuillard et son temps, Paris, 1946, p. 84 (illustrated, p. 87; titled Vallotton and Missia Natanson).
C. Roger-Marx, Vuillard, Paris, 1948, p. 25 (illustrated, p. 40, fig. 20; titled Vallotton and Missia Natanson).
C. Schweicher, Die Bildraumgestaltung, das Dekorative und das Ornamentale im Werke von Edouard Vuillard, Ph.D. Diss., Universität Zürich, 1949, pp. 35-37, 79, 94, 96 and 129.
F. Fels,"L’Art vivant de 1900 à nos jours" in Peinture et sculpteurs d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, no. 17, 1950, Geneva, p. 88 (illustrated; titled Missia Godebska et Félix Vallotton).
G. Charensol, "Vuillard" in Médecines et peintures, no. 76, 1955 (illustrated, pl. 7).
A. Vaillant, “Livret de famille” L’Oeil, no. 24, December 1956, p. 27 (illustrated).
S. Wichmann, “Intimität des Dekors: Edouard Vuillard, ein Überwinder des Impressionismus” in Die Kunst und das Schöne Heim, no. 9, June 1962, pp. 356-357 (illustrated, p. 356, fig. 4; titled Vallotton und Missia Godebska).
F. Russoli, "Vuillard" in I Maestri del colore, no. 170, 1966 (illustrated in color, pl. 8; illustrated again on the index page; titled Missia e Vallotton and with incorrect dimensions).
R. Barilli, “Bonnard, Vuillard e la poetica degli interni” in L’Arte moderna: soggettività e oggettività del linguaggio simbolista, vol. II, no. 13, 1967, p. 127 (illustrated in color; titled Misia et Vallotton).
J. Dugdale, "Edouard Vuillard" in The Masters, no. 97, 1967 (illustrated, p. 8; illustrated again in color, pl. 11; titled Misia and Vallotton).
J.-E. Muller, "L’Art au vingtième siècle" in Le Livre de poche, no. 2286, 1967, p. 36 (illustrated, fig. 12; titled Vallotton et Misia).
F. Russoli and R. Martin, Vuillard, Chefs d'oeuvre de l'art, grands peintres, Paris, 1967, no. 74 (illustrated in color, pl. VIII).
J. Salomon, Vuillard, Paris, 1968, pp. 72-73 and 216 (illustrated in color, p. 73; titled Misia et Vallotton).
H. Perruchot, ed., Jardin des arts, no. 161, April 1968, p. 76 (illustrated; titled Madame Mayrisch).
R. Negri, “Bonnard e I Nabis” in I Mensili d’arte, no. 37, 1970, p. 99 (illustrated in color, p. 64, pl. 38; titled Misia e Vallotton and with incorrect dimensions and provenance).
J.-L. Daval, Journal de l'art moderne: 1884-1914, Geneva, 1973, pp. 140-144 (illustrated).
S. Monneret, Dictionnaire international illustré: l'Impressionnisme et son époque, A à L, Paris, vol. I, 1978, p. 248 (illustrated in color; titled Misia et Vallotton and with incorrect provenance).
A. Gold and R. Fizdale, The Life of Misia Sert, New York, 1980, p. 114 (illustrated in color).
T. Prideaux, "Misia, a Free Spirit, Knew (and Loved) Just About Everyone" in Smithsonian Magazine, February 1980 (illustrated in color, p. 98).
A. Georges, Symbolisme et décor: Vuillard, 1888-1905, Ph.D. Diss., Université de Paris, Sorbonne, 1982, pp. 72-73.
O. Schweiz, Gemälde des 19: Jahrhunderts, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Bern, 1983, p. 220 (illustrated, p. 221; titled Misia Natanson and dated circa 1898).
E. Daniel, Vuillard: l’espace de l’intimité, Ph.D. Diss., Institut d'Art et d'Archéologie, Paris, 1984, pp. 81 and 84 (illustrated, p. 83, fig. 22; titled Valotton et Misia Godebska).
P. Ciaffa, The Portraits of Edouard Vuillard, Ph.D. Diss., Columbia University, New York, 1985, pp. 254-255 (illustrated, fig. 121).
D. Kedler, “Les Nabis, prophètes et peintres” in L’Héritage de I’impressionnisme: Les sources du vingtième siècle, 1986, p. 212 (illustrated in color, fig. 223).
D. Kedler, The Great Book of Post-Impressionism, New York, 1986, p. 214 (illustrated in color, fig. 223; titled Misia, Vallotton, and Thadée Natanson).
B. Thomson, Vuillard, New York, 1988, p. 4 (illustrated in color, p. 2; titled Vallotton and Misia in the Dining-Room, rue Saint-Florentin and with incorrect dimensions).
J. Warnod, Vuillard, Paris, 1988, pp. 51 and 96 (illustrated in color, p. 50; titled Vallotton et Misia).
C.B. Bailey and J.J. Rishel, Masterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection, exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1989, p. 112 (illustrated, fig. 170).
E.W. Easton, The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard, exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1989, pp. 118, 122 and 125 (illustrated in color, p. 123, fig. 92; titled Misia and Vallotton in the Dining Room, rue Saint-Florentin).
K. Johnson, “Life Patterns: A Preview of ‘The Intimate Eye of Edouard Vuillard' at The Katonah Gallery” in Hudson Valley, May 1989, p. 27 (detail illustrated, p. 25).
W. Zimmer, “Glorious Pre-1900 Vuillard Sampling” in The New York Times, 4 June 1989, p. 30 (illustrated).
C. Frèches-Thory and A. Terrasse, Les Nabis, Paris, 1990, pp. 281 and 315 (illustrated in color, p. 280; titled Vallotton et Misia dans la salle à Manger, rue Saint-Florentin).
“The Intimate Interiors of Edouard Vuillard” in The Brooklyn Museums Newsletter, May 1990 (illustrated on the front cover and illustrated in color, p. 63; titled Misia and Vallotton in the Dining Room, rue Saint-Florentin).
G. Bernier, La Revue Blanche, Paris, 1991, p. 316 (illustrated in color, p. 67; titled Misia et Vallotton, rue Saint-Florentin).
S.M. Newman, Félix Vallotton, exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1991, p. 12 (illustrated, fig. 3; titled Vallotton and Misia in the Dining Room, rue Saint-Florentin).
N.E. Forgione, Edouard Vuillard in the 1890s: Intimism, Theater and Decoration, Ph.D. Diss., Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, 1992, pp. xii and 259-260 (illustrated, p. 335, fig. 90; titled Misia and Vallotton in the Dining-Room, rue Saint-Florentin).
M. Hapgood, Wallpaper and the Artist, Abbeville, 1992.
G. Cogeval, Vuillard: Le temps détourné, Paris, 1993, p. 138 (illustrated in color, p. 52, fig. 52g; titled Vallotton et Misia dans la salle à manger, rue Saint-Florentin and with incorrect dimensions).
C. Frèches-Thory, Die Nabis, Propheten der Moderne, exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich, 1993, p. 350 (illustrated, fig. 179.2).
G.L. Groom, Edouard Vuillard, Painter-Decorator: Patrons and Projects, 1892-1912, New Haven, 1993, pp. 85-86 (illustrated in color, pl. 144; titled Misia and Vallotton in the Dining Area).
S. Melikian, “Nabis: When the World Changed” in International Herald Tribune, 25-26 September 1993, p. 30 (illustrated).
J. Turner, ed., The Dictionary of Art, New York, 1996, p. 741 (illustrated, p. 742, fig. 3; titled Vallotton and Misia in the Dining-room, Rue Saint Florentin and dated circa 1899).
E. Lucie-Smith, Lives of the Great Twentieth-Century Artists, London, 1999 (illustrated in color; titled Misia and Vallotton).
R.R. Brettell, Oxford History of Art: Modern Art, 1851-1929, Capitalism and Representation, Oxford, 1999, p. 28, no. 19 (illustrated in color; titled Misia and Vallotton in the Dining Room).
M. Kimmelman, “Vuillard the Spectator, Poised at Life’s Windows” in The New York Times, 17 January 2003, pp. E41(illustrated in color).
H. Kramer, “Mammoth Collection of Genius in Flux” in The New York Observer, 3 February 2003 (illustrated).
A. Salomon and G. Cogeval, Vuillard: Le regard innombrable, Catalogue critique des peintures et pastels, Paris, 2003, vol. I, pp. 502-503, no. VI-71 (illustrated in color, p. 502; detail illustrated in color, p. 450).
J. Zutter, ed., Pierre Bonnard: Observing Nature, exh. cat., National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2003, p. 157 (illustrated in color, fig. 133).
J. Dorfman, “The Prophets” in Art & Antiques, May 2012, p. 61 (illustrated in color).
Paul Rosenberg, Paris.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, 28 March 1900).
Aline Mayrisch, Colpach, Luxembourg (2 March 1908).
Andrée Pierre-Viénot, Paris (by descent from the above and until at least 1968).
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York (1972).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 8 June 1979.