The Little Restaurant (Le petit restaurant)


Edouard Vuillard ( French, 1868 - 1940 )

c. 1900–1901
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General Description

Edouard Vuillard was the master of Parisian observation. The decade of his greatest accomplishments was the 1890s, when this small painting was made. Vuillard's paintings at that time were either very large decorations, commissioned to fit into domestic environments, or tiny cardboard concoctions whose modesty of scale was matched by a modesty of subject. In most cases, Vuillard preferred to represent the interiors of petit-bourgeois Paris, and his small rooms, stuffed with furniture and papered with wonderful patterns, have joined the canon of modern art. This delightful cardboard painting is something of an exception in Vuillard's production of the 1890s in that it represents a public rather than a private place. Nevertheless, it remains a supreme example of interior genre, focusing not on a public moment but on a quiet domestic scene that Vuillard observed in a restaurant. Vuillard "sets" the painting's space so that we imagine ourselves entering the little restaurant, and, rather than greeting us with the jaded habitués so common in paintings of such places by Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, he presents us with a young family out for a meal together. Because light floods in from the large windows, we are to imagine that the scene occurs on a Sunday afternoon, when both mother and father are at leisure and the family has time for the luxury of a restaurant meal. Vuillard pays close attention to the relationship between the mother and her baby, to the curiosity of the little girl, who leans her arms on the table, and to the family dog, who waits in anticipation for the baby to drop some food. The entire scene is delightfully sentimental and charming, and refuses to allow us one wicked thought. Vuillard was twenty-six years old when he painted this work. He still lived with his mother, as he did throughout her life, and consorted with a convivial group of supportive vanguard artists, writers, and musicians who formed a circle around the Natanson family and their journal, "La Revue blanche." Always childless, Vuillard was a doting uncle to his one niece and frequently painted children. Indeed, if Vuillard had a signature figure in his paintings of the 1890s, it was a little girl, and this one, with her dark black eyes and mop of unruly hair, is among his most charming. Richard Brettell, "Impressionist Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection," (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1995), 113