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The youngest of three children, Edouard Vuillard was born on November 11, 1868, in the town of Cuiseaux in eastern France. After the family moved to Paris Vuillard attended the prestigious Lycée Condorcet, where the painters Maurice Denis and Ker-Xavier Roussel and the theater director Aurélien Lugné-Poë were among his classmates and friends. Following the death of his father in 1883, his mother maintained the family through work as a dressmaker and corsetière.

After the lycée, Vuillard studied painting at the famed Académie Julian along with Pierre Bonnard, Paul Sérusier, Roussel, and Denis. After several attempts, he was accepted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1887. Sérusier, who was studying with Paul Gauguin, brought to Vuillard and his friends the older artist’s ideas about color, technique, and the use of symbolism and correspondences to convey meaning. With these ideas in mind, he, Vuillard, Bonnard, Roussel, Denis, and other friends established the Nabi group of painters.

In 1891 Vuillard met the three Natanson brothers, Thadée, Alfred, and Alexandre, who had founded the progressive arts magazine La Revue Blanche. Thadée was in charge of art criticism and invited Vuillard to show work in the magazine’s offices that fall—his first one-person exhibition. Over the next several years the Natansons and their circle commissioned important works from Vuillard. Thadée’s wife, Misia, became Vuillard’s particular muse and appears in numerous works of the period.

At this time Vuillard and his friends were also working in the avant-garde theater that was burgeoning in Paris. Together with Bonnard, Sérusier, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vuillard created set designs and costumes for a number of landmark theater productions, including the première of Alfred Jarry’s scandalous Ubu Roi, which caused riots. Meanwhile, he continued to paint, often taking his mother and sister, Marie, as models. Throughout these years, Vuillard, a bachelor, shared a home with them. His mother was a presiding spirit for him and for the Nabis, often cooking meals for the artists.

After the turn of the century, the Revue Blanche ceased publication and the Natanson milieu began to fragment. Vuillard found a new supporter in the art dealer Jos Hessel, who began representing him and many of the Nabi painters after 1900. He formed a close friendship with Jos and his wife, Lucy, who became his lover. The partnership of the Hessels with Vuillard, both professional and personal, was to last for the next forty years, until the artist’s death. They spent summers and holidays together, in the Hessels’ country homes and on trips abroad. After the end of World War I, Vuillard was a much sought-after portraitist; portraiture became the centerpiece of his life’s work between the wars. Chief among his subjects was Lucy Hessel, whom he painted innumerable times. With the German invasion of France, Vuillard fled Paris with the Hessels. He died in La Baule, Brittany, in June 1940.
Edouard Vuillard, self-portrait
Gelatin silver print
Private collection