The Tent


Edouard Vuillard ( French, 1868 - 1940 )

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General Description

Edouard Vuillard traveled by train to the Brittany resort town of Penchâteau in July 1908 to visit his friends Joseph and Lucie Hessel, who had rented a house there called Ker Panurge for much of the summer. Jospeh Hessel was a partner in the large art gallery Bernheim-Jeune, which handled Vuillard's work as well as that of his friend Pierre Bonnard. While in Brittany with the Hessel family, Vuillard was inspired to make a large number of works, among the most important of which is "The Tent," which he referred to in his journal entry on 29 July as "a sketch in tempera, the tent." He had traveled to Brittany with Alfred Natanson, who, with his brother Thadée, founded "La Revue blanche," Alfred's wife, the actress Marthe Mellot, and their two daughters. Later in the month, the painter Bonnard, his common-law wife Marthe, and Vuillard's mother arrived to complete the house party. During the residence in the large house, many others came for luncheons, dinners, and long leisurely afternoons, and Vuillard represented these occasions almost as if he were a court painter for the Jewish intelligentsia. Photographs probably dating from 28 July 1908 by both Vuillard (who was a gifted and passionate photographer) and Alfred Natanson documents an afternoon visit to Ker Panurge by other friends, including the writers Romain Coolus and Tristan Bernard, and Bernard's wife, Marcelle Aron. Many of these photographs are sited in and around a striped garden tent set up to protect the weekend party from the wind and sun of the Brittany coast. Vuillard made many sketches of this afternoon, two of which are preserved in the Reves Collection. Many friends of Vuillard recall that he was an obsessive draftsman, that he was virtually always present with a small sketchpad and pencil, and that he made thousands of sketches throughout his life. Many of these survive, and most of the ones from the early years of the 20th century are closely related to these sheets in technique and purpose. The artist drew sheets of this sort, called "croquis" in French, with a burst of energy while staring fixedly at his motif. The aim of the "croquis" was not to look at the drawing, but the create, using a few simple gestures, an instant diagram of a particular scene that might become the scaffolding for a subsequent work of art. As such, "croquis" can be preparatory, and they constitute and intensive form of visual research. Vuillard himself probably employed them in concert with his photographs as an aide-mémoire when constructing his larger works. Vuillard's own description of "The Tent" as a "sketch" ("pochade") links it to impressionist practice. Monet used the same word in describing his sketches of the waterside café La Grenouillère in 1869. Vuillard, like Monet, wanted his work to convey the immediacy experienced at the site - in this case, a windy coastal garden in Brittany - and so it does. "The Tent" is alive with gesture, as is a slightly smaller and differently constructed work called "La Tent rayée" (1908, private collection, Geneva). Our eyes pass rapidly across the surface, alighting at a figure of a part of the ten, but never for very long. Like the impressionists, Vuillard was interested in entrapping the entire visual field. As we look at his "sketch," we feel precisely the sensation of a blustery, windswept afternoon when we attempt a conversation, perhaps after having a little too much wine at lunch. The discreet pleasures of bourgeois life have seldom had a better visual archivist than Vuillard. Richard Brettell, "Impressionist Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection," (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1995), 138-39