Born in Cuiseaux, France (Saône-et-Loire department in the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté), in 1868, Edouard Vuillard was a French painter, decorative artist and printmaker. The son of a retired army officer, his remarkable body of work is central to the history of modern art. Author Julia Frey reveals why she called her new study of Vuillard’s life and art in the book Venus Betrayed.
From early paintings, where women disappear into complex compositions of textiles and wallpaper, through thousands of paintings in many styles, over more than 50 years, Vuillard constantly contrasted symbolic beauty and love to real women and men, even posing models beside a cast of the Venus of Milo. Vuillard’s paintings are full of striking, distractingly gorgeous patterns, colors and objects. One wonders what is hiding behind them. They are full of feeling and mystery, but the ‘story’ is never explained. When Frey began studying the artist, she thought that any man who lives with his mother until he is sixty has something to hide.
She found that Edouard Vuillard was so secretive that he berated himself for betraying his emotions in conversation. He was shy and reclusive, reticent but impassioned, a timid stalker and a social climbing anarchist, caught in conflicting desires. From the 1880s until the advent of World War II, using styles from academic to Pointillist to Nabi to Fauve, he abundantly revealed his love and hatred in his paintings: models pose beside a plaster torso cast from the Venus of Milo, women appear without faces, anxiety radiates from many masterpieces, while other works were left unfinished for months or years.
Drawing on insights and images from Vuillard’s still unpublished diaries, Julia Frey takes the reader into Vuillard’s private world of cabarets, experimental theatres, holiday resorts and intimate boudoirs, showing how his art reflects his fraught personal relations and his artistic struggles. Frey chooses many of his finest works, from the famous intimate interior scenes to book illustrations and poster designs, and examines his complex relationships with friends such as Pierre Bonnard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Stéphane Mallarmé, Felix Vallotton, and the women he loved: his mother and sister, penniless models and rich men’s wives.
Julia Frey is emeritus professor of French and Art History at University of Colorado, artist, printmaker and writer. Her books include the critically acclaimed biography Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life (1994), which won a PEN literary award, and Balcony View: A 9/11 Diary (published in 2011, this journal of life at Ground Zero during and after the 2001 terrorist attacks was finalist for a 2012 Indie Discovery Award for memoir). She now lives in France.
- 12 April – 19:30: Join us! The Book Room will participate in the Evening with an Artist Program at the American Library of Paris (7th arr) where art historian Beverly Held will interview Julia Frey about Venus Betrayed, the Private World of Edouard Vuillard. This is also an opportunity to purchase this beautifully printed art book for a reduced price. This event is open to the public and is free (suggested donation to the ALP is 10€). Registration for the event is required
- Read Beverly Held’s review of Venus Betrayed
- See more of Vuillard’s work