Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Paris Journal VIII: Felix Vallotton

Photograph of Vallotton’s "Etude de fesses" by Hallie Cohen
If you’ve never heard of Felix Vallotton, think Manet and Ingres, Edvard Munch, Strindberg (who he recalls in a succession of woodcuts devoted to scenes of domestic strife “Les Intimites"), Zola (who he painted) and Vuillard and Bonnard who constituted the group, Les Nabis, of which he was a member. The current show Felix Vallotton: The Fire Under the Ice at the Grand Palais is not chronologically but thematically organized and the early portraits grouped together under the title “Idealism and Purity of Line” pay homage to Ingres. But his“Femme au Perroquet,” an odalisque displayed in the section devoted to  “Flattened Perspective, “ recalls Manet’s “Olympia,” with its flat painterly surface. The subtitle of the show “the fire under the ice” refers to the cool surfaces with which Vallotton approached his erotic subject matter. For instance, the curators point out that he used the line like an invisible corset to control the emotions unleashed in erotic paintings like those grouped together under the title, “Femmes Duets.” Commenting on this duality in his own work, Vallotton is quoted as saying: “I think I paint for people who are level-headed but who have an unspoken vice deep inside them. I actually like this state which I share.” The current exhibit ingeniously places Vallotton’s “Etude de fesses” (“School of Buttocks,"1884), a female behind, next to a ham, as if to underscore the artist’s point. Can we say about Vallotton, whose career embodies a plethora of modernist strategies that eschew one distinct style, that the hole was greater than the sum of the parts?

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