Édouard Vuillard is best known for his easel paintings of intimate scenes of Parisian domestic life. Yet his most important contributions to modern art are his large-scale décorations, or mural-like paintings made to decorate specific interiors. Commissioned by friends and clients for their homes, none remain in situ, and most of the paintings have been dispersed into public and private collections. This exhibition brings together two halves of one of the artist’s most important early decorative ensembles: First Fruits, on loan from the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California, and the Art Institute’s Window Overlooking the Woods.
At twelve and fourteen feet long, respectively, the Chicago and Pasadena pendants are the largest canvases of Vuillard’s career and among his most successful in blending traditional decoration with a modern subject and technique. The paintings were originally commissioned in 1899 by Adam Natanson for the library of his central Paris home—no doubt at the urging of his sons Alexander, Thadée, and Alfred, all of whom were Vuillard’s patrons and intimate friends.
Although the subject of both paintings is intimate and genre-like, Vuillard titled them verdures, which can refer to both a lush thicket in a forest and a specific style of tapestry with leafy borders produced during the Renaissance. These historical verdures usually depicted scenes of hunting and other rustic pursuits for royal and notable households. Vuillard’s verdures would have appealed to the aristocratic pretentions of his patron, whose former residence, the Château de Méréville, was decorated with four 18th-century murals by Hubert Robert (now in the Art Institute’s collection in Gallery 218). By 1950 both décorations were sold into private collections in the United States and have not been seen together since. This exhibition brings together these rarely traveled paintings for the first time and celebrates the importance of décorations to avant-garde artists at the end of the 19th century.