Maman: Vuillard and Madame Vuillard
Marking 150 years since the artist’s birth, this catalogue accompanies the first exhibition dedicated exclusively to Édouard Vuillard’s portrayal of his mother, Madame Marie-Justine-Alexandrine Michaud Vuillard. Few other artistic practices have so consistently featured the artist’s mother as motif, whether that is in paintings that approximate to the conventions of portraiture, those that represent her professional life as the chef-patronne of a corsetry atelier or the numerous paintings of everyday domesticity that subsume the figure of Madame Vuillard into a generically maternal role. It is no coincidence that in 1920 Vuillard declared ‘Ma Maman, c’est ma muse’.
Madame Vuillard is a particular focus of the work produced during the initial decade of Édouard Vuillard’s (1868 - 1940) career, the 1890s, when Vuillard was a member of the Nabis and forging an artistic identity as part of the Parisian avant-garde. During this period Vuillard and his widowed mother shared a series of modest rented apartments in central Paris in which the artist sustained a works-on-paper and (from 1897) amateur photographic practice out of his ‘studio-bedroom’, whilst in the dining room Madame Vuillard ran the corsetry business employing a handful of seamstresses including Vuillard’s sister. In these apartments Vuillard and Madame Vuillard operated mutually supportive, parallel working practices, to the extent that Vuillard put his mother and the fabric of her atelier ‘in the picture’ whilst she posed for his pencil and camera or developed his photographs in the kitchen. Their Parisian co-habitation, and Vuillard’s portrayal of his mother across a range of pictorial media, lasted until Madame Vuillard’s death as an elderly woman in 1928.
This mutuality of working and living practice will constitute one of the themes of this unique loan exhibition, drawn from UK and Parisian collections and featuring paintings, lithographs and other works on paper as well as photographs. It will also explore the diverse domestic roles and responsibilities of a petit-bourgeois widow at the turn of the century in works that portray Madame Vuillard as seamstress; resting after dinner; imparting maternal advice and care to her daughter; as a woman at her toilette; and as the apartment’s cook and cleaner. The exhibition will also foreground Vuillard’s practice as modernist artist by focusing on the maternal figure in relation to the specific formal properties of his work. These include, in the 1890s at least, the paintings’ diminutive size; their shallow, simplified compositional structure worked over with dense webs or matt patches of pigment; and the omission of spaces between figures and things. It was the intimacy (sometimes serious or witty, often banal) of their maternal motifs, the intimate formal relation between figure and ground and the intimate viewing conditions these small works required of their viewers that caught the attention of Vuillard’s earliest critics, who in the 1890s first labeled him an ‘intimiste’ artist. This exhibition and accompanying illustrated catalogue will locate Madame Vuillard as muse, as motif and as everyday practical support at the core of Vuillard’s developing Intimism; an artistic corpus spanning 40 years.
The exhibition catalogue will feature an essay on Madame Vuillard’s role in her son’s practice by the exhibition’s curator, Dr Francesca Berry, and an essay on Vuillard and photography by Mathias Chivot of the Archives Vuillard-Archives Roussel, Paris.
Francesca Berry and Mathias Chivot
19 October 2018
Paperback, 210 x 210 mm
84 pages, 50 colour illus.
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham
19 October 2018 - 20 January 2019
In the press
"Well-chosen exhibition ... elaborates how Vuillard's intimism, both his formal project to push the limits of representation by dissolving the figure in enveloping interior space, and his thematic concern with the warmth/claustrophobia of petit bourgeois experience, depended on his closeness to his mother."–Financial Times
"Surprisingly, given the important role [Vuillard's mother] played in his art, there has never beed an exhibition focusing on their devoted relationship ... Maman asks how Vulliard could summon progressive art out of the ostensibly banal world of petit-bourgeois domesticity ... For all their quiet modesty, and debt to traditional domestic interiors by Vermeer, Vuillard's "intimiste" painting have a surprising radical quality." –Daily Telegraph
"Charming ... was Vuillard an overindulged mummy's boy, spoilt and cosseted, happily tied to [his mother's] apron strings? Or was he driven, determined, devoted to his art...?" —World of Interiors
"Compelling ... in bringing her forward, the curators show just how much Madame Vuillard recede into the ambience she created, but also into her inner self. Vuillard allows her to be constantly present and yet fully as private as any human being." –Observer
"Charming ... these intimate pictures are a radical departure from the usual French fin-de-siècle celebrations of woman as love object, let alone sex object. They’re a celebration of ‘her indoors’ from a filial perspective: images of female domestic industry and the atmosphere in which it was wrapped — an atmosphere Vuillard had breathed since childhood."—The Spectator
"[An] intimate portrayal of the relationship between the artist and his mother." —Country Life
"Stunning works" —The Times