Bathing on a Summer Evening (Le Bain au soir d’été) (detail), 1892 -93.
Paintings of women peacefully undressing for a dip in the bath on a sunbathed evening and lovers shown amidst the shadows in embrace. These are the richly coloured scenarios currently on display at the Royal Academy of Art in London, all thanks to Félix Vallotton. Located in the Sackler Galleries, the paintings immerse the viewer in warm tones of peach, green, and brown. The prints bring contrast – black and white – with the sharp outlines of figures lightly softened through the passing of time. It’s a remarkably serene yet intensely visual landscape of art that both excites and soothes those dropping in on a late summer afternoon.
Painter of Disquiet marks Vallotton’s first major exhibition in the UK. Organised by the RA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in collaboration with Foundation Félix Vallotton, over 80 paintings and prints can now be enjoyed in central London. Described as a “very singular” artist by his friends and peers, the Swiss-French painter created imagery that depicted reality without embellishment – the fleshy nude, ripe peppers on a white plate, or a violet sunset observed from a pebbled coast. It was the seeming banality of daily living that inspired him the most, and the resulting pieces allow us to reflect on the inherent beauty of our surroundings. Vallotton reminds us to pause every so often by freezing these moments of time in strokes of paint or ink.
Self-portrait at the Age of Twenty (Autoportrait a l’age de vingt ans), 1885.
In 1865, Vallotton moved to Paris to pursue a career in the arts. He would live out the remainder of his life in the French capital surrounded by pioneering artists whose work would eventually birth the Impressionism, Cubism and Abstraction movements. While Vallotton largely focused his work towards capturing the soothing daily routines of Parisian living and nature caught at a stand-still, his beginning paintings heavily poke fun at the Parisian bourgeoisie and wittily question the customs of urban life. Towards the end of the 19th century Vallotton would go on to join Les Nabis, an artistic movement whose most notable members include Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, creating work that ultimately pointed art away from Impressionism to more abstract interpretations.
Despite his contributions to Les Nabis, Vallotton returned back to the heavy-handed and blunt depictions of reality that had launched his interest in painting. Perhaps lesser known, in addition to his painting Vallotton produced several plays and novels, his most famous La vie meutriére (The Murderous Life) possessing a morbidly humorous take on the supernatural. Then there is his contribution to the cinematic way of portraying love kept in the dark, secret and sensitive to its predicament. Stop by the RA to see for yourself how Vallotton, an artist on the cusp of the Belle Epoque, helped pave the way for 20th century art whilst retaining a style distinctly his own.
‘Painter of Disquiet’ by Félix Vallotton is on display at the RA until September 29th. More information regarding visiting hours and tickets can be found here.
Intimacies V: Money (Intimités V: L’Argent), 1897-8.
Red Peppers (Poivrons rouges), 1915.