Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Félix Vallotton

In the 1890s the Swiss artist Félix Vallotton belonged to the group of artists known as Les Nabis. Made up of young, avant-garde artists like Bonnard, Vuillard and Denis, Les Nabis was a group which drew inspiration from Gaugain and Japanese ukiyoe prints, and sought to create art that was highly decorative. The exhibition "Félix Vallotton. Fire beneath the ice", currently showing at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, is composed of forty prints from the Van Gogh Museum collection and around sixty paintings, on loan from different institutions globally, and draws close to the full story of Vallotton's art.

fig.1 Félix Vallotton, The other’s health (Intimacies IX),
1898, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

At first Vallotton set out to become a painter, and produced many portraits; by the 1890s, however, he had begun to make woodcuts. This period was the prime time of lithography. Woodcutting, growing obsolete as it was only being used to duplicate photographs or drawings, was led to innovation by Vallotton. Rather than apply traditional western printmaking techniques for three-dimensional representation, such as gradients, or crosshatching, Vallotton composed with clusters of big, thick black and planes of stark white. He was skilled at depicting street-corner scenes of city crowds and demonstrations, but also intimate indoor scenes of bathers, or of men and women talking together. Especially "Intimités" (Intimacies) is considered a highlight of his print work (fig.1). This series of woodcuts pictures room interiors, and catches with great precision the subtleties between the men and women within; betrayal, indifference, a change of heart. A sense of turbulence is revealed, exposing these hidden, cold relationships beyond the intimacy shown on the surface. Vallotton's impressive prints were published in newspapers and books, widely disseminated in not only Europe but the United States as well.

fig.2 Félix Vallotton, The Ball, 1899,
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, bequest of Carle Dreyfus, 1953
In the field of oil painting, Vallotton produced portraits, landscapes, still lifes, nudes and various genre pieces. Among these, his method of landscape painting was extremely interesting. Instead of capturing an actual landscape and making that into the image's surface, he would use references, such as his own earlier work or photographs, into impossible, ingenious landscapes. Take for example the masterful painting "The Ball" (fig.2), which is composed of two photographs; one is of a girl, taken from the side, while the other is taken from a window upstairs, looking down. Combined into a single image are two points of view. Furthermore, when painting, he would first draw an outline and then fill it in with flats, largely avoiding the suggestion of mass by light and shadows, to bring about an ornamental image. With the inspiration he drew from ukiyoe and his interest in photography, Vallotton established his own unique way of working, with a smooth surface, a cool atmosphere and a sophisticated sense of color.

The exhibition "Félix Vallotton. Fire beneath the ice" will show until 1 June. After that it will travel to the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo.

Van Gogh Museum
Paulus Potterstraat 7
1071 CX Amsterdam
+31 20 570 5200
The Netherlands
Opening times:
From 1 March 9:00 - 18:00 (until 22:00 on Fridays)