EDOUARD VUILLARDFrench 1868 - 1940

Château des Clayes, a fourteenth-century manor house not far from the Palace of Versailles, was to be Vuillard’s last country refuge and his major source of inspiration in the last twelve years of his life. Once a nobleman’s residence, the château had been demolished during the Revolution but was restored in 1810. Les Clayes was owned by Joseph (Jos) Hessel and his wife Lucie, Vuillard’s lifelong friends and closest companions. Jos Hessel was a partner in the prominent Parisian art-dealing firm Bernheim-Jeune, and together with the Bernheim brothers was instrumental in introducing Vuillard to avant-garde circles. Lucie Hessel - who became Vuillard’s lover, confidante, muse and mentor - was one of Vuillard’s most frequent subjects until his death in 1940.

The Hessels purchased the estate in 1925. Vuillard had his own ground-floor rooms in one of the wings of the château, which during the last decade of his life became his rural retreat. The artist was often guest at the fashionable social events and friendly gatherings held at Les Clayes. He quietly observed the guests, filling his notebooks with sketches. Jacques Salomon, his nephew-in-law, recalled of Vuillard at Les Clayes that “he was constantly drawing his friends, and those who found his eye upon them knew they must hold the pose in which he had caught them…” (J. Russel, 'Vuillard', Greenwich, 1971, p. 128.) Then these sketches were transferred “to a sheet of cardboard or canvas, or more frequently to a piece of paper which he cut from a roll that stood permanently in one corner of his studio.” (ibid., p. 127).

In the present picture, Vuillard masterfully displays elegantly dressed bourgeoisie involved in casual conversation within a formal dining room setting. This contrast of highly refined individuals shown in intimate and relaxed poses is typical of his later works. “In an unsystematic way he assembled as complete a record as any we have of the way well-to-do people looked and behaved in the France of the Third Republic.” (ibid., p. 69.) Madame Hessel is pictured at the far right of the table, conversing with the playwright Romain Coolus. Lulu Hessel, her adopted daughter, is seated in the middle. On a sideboard behind is set an enormous bouquet of flowers and a large mirror, in which the guests are reflected.

La Salle à Manger au Château des Clayes was painted on ochre-colored paper using the distemper medium, in which tempera paint is mixed with sizing. “Vuillard first used détremper as a scene painter in the theater and liked its quick-drying properties as well as its chalky, unreflective surface, which harmonized well in an interior setting…In cultivating a dry, matte quality, Vuillard was in tune with most of the decorative painters of his generation, who, in the wake of Puvis and Gauguin, sought to avoid the illusion of depth and reflective properties associated with oil paint and to appropriate, in different ways, the flat wall-enhancing effects of fresco.” (B. Thomson, V uillard , New York, 1988, p. 44). Subtle use of colour recalls Vuillard’s artistic beginnings as a Nabi. Another, smaller view of the dining room at Les Clayes, executed around the same time as our picture, is in The Art Museum, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.
Provenance: Estate of the artist; Sam Salz, Inc., New York; Robert B. Mayer, Chicago (acquired from the above, 1955); sale, Christie's New York, 15 November 1989, lot 462; sale, Christie's New York, 8 November 2000, lot 39; Private collection, U.S.A.

Exhibition: Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Vuillard, 1945; Brussels, Palais de Beaux-Arts, Vuillard, October 1946, no. 6 (illustrated; titled 'Déjeuner aux Clayes'); Stockholm, Galerie d'Art Latin, Vuillard, 1948, no. 20; Basel, Kunsthalle, Edouard Vuillard, Charles Hug, March-May 1949, no. 237(illustrated; titles 'Salle â manger aux Clayes'); New York, The Jewish Museum, Edouard Vuillard: A Painter and His Muses, 1890-1940, 4 May-23 September, 2012 (illustrated p. 65)

C. Roger-Marx, Vuillard, Paris, 1948, no. 63 (illustrated, p. 71).
C. Roger-Marx, Edourd Vuillard 1867-1940 // Gazette des Beaux-Arts 29, No. 952 (June 1946), p. 376, illustrated.
C. Roger-Marx, Vuillard, Paris, 1948, no. 63, illustrated, p. 71.
R. Gaffé, Introduction à la peinture française. De Manet à Picasso, Paris, 1954, p. 171, illustrated.
A. Salomon, G. Cogeval, Vuillard. Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, Paris, 2003, vol III, p.. 1563, No. XII-212, illustrated in color (titled 'Lunch at Les Clayes').
S. Brown (ed.), Edouard Vuillard: A Painter and His Muses (exhibition catalogue), New York, 2012, p. 65 (illustrated).

EDOUARD VUILLARDFrench 1868 - 1940

Having studied at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, in 1889 Vuillard joined a group of art students that included Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Sérusier, Ker-Xavier Roussel, and Félix Vallotton. Together they formed the Nabis group of painters, which flourished in the 1890s. Vuillard became known for his intimate interiors painted in flat colors and an original style. From 1900 he, together with Bonnard, became increasingly naturalistic in style and the two of them became the main practitioners of Intimisme. He had several close female friends and generally preferred to paint female sitters. He was reserved and quiet although affectionate and very much liked, but he seldom showed his paintings except at the gallery of his dealer Bernheim Jeune.

The public knew little of his work until the Musée des Arts Decoratifs held a major retrospective in Paris in 1938. He died in La Baule while fleeing the German invasion. For many years he kept a detailed journal (48 volumes all held in the Institute de France, Paris) in which he revealed his thoughtful attitude towards art and life. As a genuine artistic pioneer of the first years of the twentieth century, his work is in many renowned collections, which include the Musée d'Orsay, the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Hermitage.