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Place Vintimille, 1908–10

“There are two occupations in me: the study of exterior perception, filled with painful experiences, dangerous for my humor and my nerves. And the study of pictorial decoration. . . which ought to give me the tranquility of a worker.” [1]

Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) was born in 1868 in Cuiseaux, a tiny French town near the Swiss border. At age nine, he moved with his family to Paris. His father, a retired army officer, died several years later, leaving his mother, Marie, with three children and only a small income. She came from a family of textile designers, and to make a living she first operated a lingerie shop and then a dressmaking business from the succession of Paris apartments that the family occupied. Edouard lived with his mother, his greatest supporter for her entire life, surrounded by the women and fabrics that filled her workroom. In his paintings, he confined himself primarily to scenes of cozy, cluttered interiors, often using his mother and sister as models. His interior scenes are characterized by a lavish use of pattern—wallpaper, upholstery, and dress fabrics, closely juxtaposed to create an effect almost like collage.

In 1888 Vuillard studied briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Jean-Léon Gérôme, but disliked the conservative approach. Later that year he moved to the Académie Julian, where he met other young artists who rejected both academic art and Impressionism. Vuillard associated with this group, known as the Nabis. By the turn of the century he was making striking, largescale decorative wall paintings and folding screens, and later, portraits of prosperous French families. While Vuillard’s art remained figurative, his intense focus on the picture surface itself—the flattened, sometimes unpainted support patterned with figures that blended with their surroundings—would foreshadow elements of abstraction in the 20th century.

In 1908 Vuillard and his mother moved into an apartment in the corner building at 16 rue de Calais, overlooking the Place Vintimille (known today as Place Adolphe Max). The small park, with its tall trees and statue of 19th-century composer Hector Berlioz, offered then as now an oasis of calm to strollers, tourists, playing children, and nannies. For the next 20 years Vuillard would draw, paint, and photograph this park from every angle and perspective.

This was the neighborhood where Vuillard had spent his youth and where many friends and fellow artists lived. The two panels in the Thannhauser collection form the outer views as seen from his fifth-floor apartment window, with each panel carefully depicting a different time of day, weather conditions, and specific details noted from the artist’s extensive observation. These two views of Place Vintimille are part of a larger group of four panels Vuillard worked on from 1908 to 1910, commissioned by the well-known playwright Henry Bernstein. They do not form a continuous whole, but rather capture different segments of the elliptical park. Although the statue of Berlioz now rests on a lower pedestal, the little park and the surrounding houses remain essentially intact.


Show Place Vintimille, 1908–10. Describe what you see in these paintings. Where are we? When? How can you tell? What activities can you observe?

What season of the year appears to be depicted in these paintings?

What day of the week and time of day might be pictured? Support your answers with specific observations from the paintings.

Provide a “weather report” that describes the atmospheric conditions that the people on the street are encountering. What clothing would you select to wear on a day such as this?

From what vantage point was the artist working while painting?

How can you tell? How might Place Vintimille look today? Name the things that might have changed. Why do you think Vuillard chose to paint so many panels of the same park?

How is this park similar to or different from your neighborhood park?