Misia in a Chaise Longue
Oil on cardboard mounted on panel
61 x 63 cm
Bequest of Richard Rodgers, New York, to American Friends of the Israel Museum
© ADAGP, Paris, 2005
Accession number: B80.0934
“In Vuillard’s company one was at peace with the world. Nothing could be more harmonious than his life and his actions.” The actor Aurélien-Marie Lugné-Poe’s characterization of his friend is mirrored in many of Edouard Vuillard’s works, which radiate an ethos of timeless serenity and cozy interiority. Vuillard was born on November 1868 in the town of Cuiseaux, where his father worked as a tax collector. In 1878, Honoré Vuillard retired from government service and the family moved to Paris, where Edouard’s mother obtained employment as a corsetière. After her husband’s death in 1884, Marie Vuillard supported her three children independently. In Paris, Edouard attended first a Catholic school and then the Lycée Concordet, reputed ta be one of the city’s best educational institutions. At Concordet, Edouard met Ker-Xavier Roussel, who became a lifelong friend and, in 1893, the husband of Edouard’s older sister. Completing his high school studies in 1885, Vuillard planned to pursue a military career, but was persuaded by Roussel, who had already decided to become a painter, to study art instead.
During the second half of the 1880s, Vuillard studied first at the Académie Julian and then briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. By 1890, he had become affiliated with a group of young painters, the Nabi brotherhood, under the leadership of Paul Sérusier. The Nabis were committed to Gauguin’s ongoing rebellion against all “scientific” art forms. In 1891, Vuillard began to work in a small studio with his new friends Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, and Lugné-Poe. Around this time, he met Thadée Natanson whose brainchild, the journal La Revue Blanche, would soon become a mouthpiece of Symbolist writers and painters. By accepting and adopting the anti-naturalist principles of the Synthetic-Symbolist aesthetic espoused by Gauguin and his colleagues, Vuillard — a most unlikely rebel — joined the ranks of a new French avant-garde. In the course of the 1890s, Vuillard and his friends pioneered an art that foreshadowed the dawn of the era of abstract painting.
Misia in a Chaise Longue, which dates from 1900, is representative of the painter’s mature style, in which decorative pattern and compositional form have become synonymous, co-expressive facets of a novel pictorial rhetoric. The woman in the picture, like most of Vuillard’s models from the 1890s, belongs to the painter’s intimate circle of friends. She is Misia Natanson (born Godebska), a talented Polish pianist and from 1893 wife of La Revue Blanche’s editor, Thadée Natanson. In the 1890s, Misia became Vuillard’s feminine muse, a reoccurring figure in his poetic interior and garden scenes. Unlike the momentary, slice-of-life images of the Impressionists, Misia in a Chaise Longue is a decorative monument to the bourgeois idyll: the private home, undisturbed by the mayhem of the world beyond and governed by the eternal matron-mother. The picture speaks as much of Vuillard’s sensitive psyche as of his decorative aesthetics. The painter never married, though he yearned for the familial solace he found in the households of his friends and in the company of his mother, with whom he lived until her death in 1928.