Exhibition: Felix Vallotton – Painter of disquiet
Date: 29th October to 26th January 2020
Venue: At The Met Fifth Avenue
The text below is the excerpt of the book Félix Vallotton, written by Nathalia Brodskaïa, published by Parkstone International.
That very strange Vallotton – that was how Thadée Natanson, the publisher of La Revue Blanche magazine, referred to the friend of his youth. In fact, Félix Vallotton did not bare his soul immediately, even to close friends. In the artistic milieu of Paris to which they both belonged, there were no ordinary people, but even among them, Vallotton stood out as being a most unusual individual. The reasons lay not so much in his character, which was indeed full of surprises, but in the phenomenon of his creative biography. Having fallen in love with painting, Vallotton suddenly abandoned it and became the greatest European engraver of the turn of the century.
Having devoted a total of only eight years to printmaking, he mastered that most forgotten of all the graphic arts – xylography. Despite his culture and intellectualism, and his membership of the group of Symbolists, Vallotton’s works were easily understood, even by the man-in-the-street. In painting, he earned fame as a conservative and a Neo-Classicist, while contriving to keep up with both the latest trends and the most progressive understanding of colour.
Although he never had any intention of shocking the public, the artist nevertheless was given much attention in the press from the moment his creations made their first appearances at exhibitions in Paris. Vallotton’s oeuvre has not been overlooked by any of the most important critics and art historians. Claude Roger-Marx, Arsène Alexandre, Camille Mauclair, Félix Fénélon, and Gustave Geffroy wrote about his early works. As early as 1898, Julius Meier-Graefe had published a monograph on Vallotton the engraver, whereas his monograph on Renoir did not appear until 1912. He did not escape the attention of the authors of La Revue Blanche, or of the Swiss critics for that matter. Louis Vauxcelles and Guillaume Apollinaire wrote about the artist at the beginning of the 20th century, even in faraway Russia (where there were already magnificent art collections of the Impressionists, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh by the beginning of the 20th century), an individual treatise on Vallotton the engraver was published by N. Shchekatikhin as early as 1918.
Vallotton’s legacy has not been forgotten even now in the 21st century. He has been recalled by Francis Jourdain, Pierre Courthion, and André Salmon, has been afforded an important place in 20th-century fine art by Charles Chassé, Gotthard Jedlicka, Florent Fels, and Élie Faure. Vallotton’s works have been exhibited in many countries, and he has been the subject of various monographs, including a work by Hedy Hahnloser-Bühler, a Swiss collector of Vallotton’s paintings. A catalogue of engravings and lithographs was compiled by a nephew of the artist, Maxime Vallotton, and the art critic, Charles Goerg. Three volumes of documents “on the biography and history of the work” published by Gilbert Guisan and Doris Jakubec have made it possible to examine the life and oeuvre of “that very strange Vallotton” properly. The details of the artist’s hard life, contact with friends, intimate relationships, the creative process, and his dealings with his patrons are assembled, fragment by fragment, in excerpts from his letters and diary and in painstaking commentaries. While acknowledging gratitude for that work, we offer yet another essay on the artist, in the hope that it will help the reader penetrate the world of his art in some measure.
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