Known for its use of contrasting colors, symbolic themes, and undeniable Japanese influence, the Nabis art group, active from 1888 to 1900, was considered one of the most prominent pre-modernism art movements. Some art critics have even likened it to a transitional era between the shapes of impressionism and the wild expressive strokes of abstract art! Comprised of 6 members who had been lifelong friends, the Nabis certainly enjoyed a degree of success at the height of their popularity, even going so far as to organize their own avant-garde exhibition. However, as public taste rapidly changed to embrace expressionism, cubism, and abstract art, the Nabis were increasingly seen as conservative for their somewhat middle-ground position which did not allow them to totally abandon the impressionist artist’s ambition. For this reason, the group broke off in 1900, after a final exhibition, and each artist went their separate ways.
Today is quite a special day, as it celebrates the birthday of one of the most prominent members of the Nabis, Édouard Vuillard.
Born on November 11st, 1868 at Cuiseaux, France, Édouard Vuillard, full name Jean-Édouard Vuillard, was not a Parisian at first. However, in 1877, he and his family moved to Paris after his father’s retirement. At first, Édouard was expected to become a soldier like his father, but the move to Paris opened his eyes, by then a 10-year-old boy, to the amazing world of art, and he decided to follow this discipline. He followed an art course from 1886 to 1888 at the Académie Julian and the famous École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he honed his skills as an artist.
The first turning point of his life came in 1889 when he met a group of art students who would then, along with himself, become the founders and members of the Nabis, which is Hebrew for prophets. It was through this group that his art found its way to blossom, and the 1890s was the height of his art career. Throughout the period, he would paint intimate scenes with female figures, sometimes even his mother, with whom he lived until his death, at the forefront. He also branched out to several different areas of art such as decoration and book illustration as well as graphic art. Several of his most prominent works in his height include The Seamstresses, Woman Sweeping, Child in an orange shawl, and The Public Garden, a six-panel series depicting children at a public park.
After the Nabis went on their separate ways, Édouard regularly received commissions from private customers as well as public organizations. In the later stage of his career, he would often paint portraits of his Nabis friends, Bonnard, Roussel, and Denis. He was also the decorative painter for the foyer of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the murals in the Palais de Chaillot, the League of Nations in Geneva. He died, financially successful, in 1940.
Édouard has always been an intimist throughout his life, even after the Nabis broke up. His work demonstrated clear Japanese influence, and they, more often than not, depict women or children at home, in their domicile environment, most often at home or in the garden, invoking a sense of intimacy and symbolic simplicity. He would also focus more on interior scenes than the great outdoors, which had been preferred by naturalist painters. Though public taste indeed did change faster than he, or the Nabis, had expected, his works still resonate well with the audience nowadays.