Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer
Edouard Vuillard (France, 1868–1940)
Marie Holding a Bowl, 1891
Oil on board
9 3/8 x 6 ¾ in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000
In 1890, the Salon des Indépendants, an exhibition free of both juries and prizes, provided the first venue for a group known as Les Nabis. Derived from the Hebrew word for “prophets,” Les Nabis was composed of a group of students given to mysticism and dissatisfied with the academies. They embraced the style Paul Gauguin had developed in the late 1880s in Pont Aven and looked to his disciple Paul Sérusier as a mentor. The style they developed, known as synthetism, abstracted forms to flat, planar areas of vivid color, thus synthesizing visual experience and emotional engagement to create something entirely new. Les Nabis attracted a number of artists, including Édouard Vuillard. The artist met several of the future members at Lycée Condorcet during his study there in 1884-85, and later at the Académie Julian between 1886-88.
During the years of Vuillard’s affiliation with Les Nabis, he worked on a small scale and tested the limits of representation by composing his images of nearly uniform color. This painting of his sister Marie relies on simplified forms and broad areas of color to compose the image. Vuillard adapted a formal approach used by Gauguin known as cloisonnism, in reference to the decorative metalworking technique of cloisonné. Although Vuillard did not define his forms with dark contours in the cloisonnist manner, his use of relatively flat color follows that of Gauguin. Marie Holding a Bowl is less a portrait of the artist’s sister than an experiment with color and form as the basis of picture-making.