Félix Vallotton's Photographic Realism
The original, full-length version of this essay introduces Félix Vallotton's use of photography and the relationship his paintings and prints have with the development of camera technologies in the 19th century. In this excerpt, Dorothy Kosinski explains the artist's reputation in the United States and how his work has been exhibited in recent decades.
The art of the Swiss-born artist Félix Vallotton remains something of an enigma for American audiences, partially because of the limited exposure it has received in the 20th century as compared with the oeuvres of the better-known Pierre Bonnard or Edouard Vuillard. The first and last major exhibition devoted to Vallotton in the United States was presented by the Yale University Art Gallery in 1991. Usefully, this exhibition attempted to represent the plenitude of the artist's long career, rather than dwelling on the more familiar episode of his youthful experiments as a card-carrying Nabis. Like that of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vallotton's graphic work tends to overshadow his achievements as a painter, even though he obviously privileged the traditional medium of oil paint. Equally adept as an incisive portraitist, perceptive landscape and still-life painter, and ambitious history painter, Vallotton possessed undeniable technical facility, as was amply demonstrated in the 1991 exhibition. However, like those of Bonnard and Vuillard, Vallotton's mature style is often less familiar than his radical symbolist works of the 1890s, when his subject matter, abstract compositional methods, and daring use of bold color most closely resembled the works of his fellow Nabis. For example, the Dallas Museum's The Laundry Woman, The Blue Room is closely related to the intimate interiors of both Vuillard and Bonnard. The dry touch, theatrical lighting, arbitrary palette, and domestic theme are characteristic of the work of the Nabis during these years. This is the Vallotton who has habitually been remembered, despite the fact that he went on to develop a highly individual artistic vision that has little in common with these early paintings.
Dorothy Kosinski, "Félix Vallotton, Lausanne 1865-1925 Paris," in The Artist and the Camera: Degas to Picasso (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2000), 227.