Surface Tensions

Edouard Vuillard at the Jewish Museum

For a generously bearded, self-styled “prophet” of Paris’s Belle Époque, Edouard Vuillard has a disappointingly uneventful biography. No swashbuckling or hard drinking for this mousy member of “Les Nabis,” a band of post-impressionist student painters galvanized by the works of Paul Gauguin. Vuillard lived with his mother, a widowed dressmaker, for sixty years. He never married. He had no conspicuous drug habits. He never lopped off one of his ears.

And if he seems an unlikely figure in the turn-of-the-century playground of Gauguin, André Gide, and Charles Baudelaire, this Catholic mama’s boy sounds like a bizarre choice for a special exhibition at New York City’s Jewish Museum.

Vuillard’s very domesticity was translated by his genius into startlingly vibrant depictions of interior spaces. His “Intimist” style was a kind of homebody impressionism, capturing in fragmented flecks the curtains and armchairs of Parisian apartments, rather than the haystacks and lily ponds of the French countryside. “I don’t do portraits,” he once...

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About the Author

Erin O’Luanaigh is a former Commonweal intern.