France 1868 – 1940

A young girl seated in a chair in the studio 1909 Materials & Technique: drawings, pastels, pastel and charcoal Support: light brown paper

Dimensions: sheet 47.9 h x 36.5 w cm
Acknowledgement: The Poynton Bequest 2014
Accession No: NGA 2014.2124
  • Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a group of young French artists formed a brotherhood that came to be known as the Nabis and included Edouard Vuillard and Ker-Xavier Roussel. They first came together as students in the late 1880s at the Lycée Condorcet in Paris and then continued their studies at the Académie Julian. There, they received tuition by the avant-garde artist Paul Sérusier, who argued against an art simply copying nature. Vuillard and Roussel adopted the Japanese sense of space, sinuous lines and patterning that they so admired in ukiyo-e prints. They also rejected the idea of painting in situ using an easel, in the manner of the Impressionists. They were not interested in capturing the fleeting moments of landscapes and cityscapes as they considered the approach too superficial.

    Vuillard admired seventeenth-century Dutch painting and Japanese ukiyo-e, particularly the imagery of the everyday and commonplace. He especially focused on interior views of family and friends such as seen in his sensitive portrait of a young girl in pastel—a medium he increasingly adopted after 1900. Like the master of nineteenth-century pastel, Edgar Degas, before him, Vuillard found he could achieve rich, dense colours in layers by working in pastel. Vuillard beautifully captures the slight awkwardness of a recalcitrant, pre-adolescent girl, self-absorbed and slouched in a chair, in A young girl seated in a chair in the studio 1909. In a masterful manipulation of space, he placed his subject at the top of the composition to suggest depth in the manner of Japanese spatial depiction while boldly leaving a vast expanse of floorboards in the foreground. The French public appreciated such domestic imagery, as simplicity and the personal were in stark contrast to the hectic pace of Parisian life at the turn of the century. This included Dr and Madame Prosper-Emile Weil, the original owners of the pastel and important patrons of Vuillard.

    In the tradition of Symbolist artists and writers, Nabi members were connected by their common desire to devise art through the creation of ornament and decorative surfaces and the use of vivid colour. This was particularly the case for Roussel, who adopted brilliant colour for his pastel Faun and nymphs in a landscape 1910, which he applied in layers ending with an azure blue to highlight the forms of the trees. His love of the Latin poets Virgil and Ovid and French Baroque artist Nicolas Poussin is evident in this Arcadian landscape.

    Inspiration from classical literature and the adoption of bold colours were aspects of French art that intrigued several Australian artists at the turn of the century, including Rupert Bunny. These recently acquired works of art, both funded by the Poynton Bequest named after the late Dr John Orde Poynton AO, CMG, represent the kind of French art that resonated with Australian artists at the time. Vuillard, in particular, influenced the artist Walter Sickert, who in turn played an important role in the history of Australian art.

    Jane Kinsman, Senior Curator of International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books

    in artonview, issue 80, Summer 2014