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Friday, December 26, 2014

Felix Vallotton


The Ball (Le Ballon)
oil on card glued on wood
1899
48.0 x 61.0 cm
Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

Felix Vallotton (1865-1925) was a Swiss painter and printmaker associated with Les Nabis. He was an important figure in the development of the modern woodcut. He published occasional art criticism, in addition to other writings: he wrote plays and novels. He responded in 1914 to the coming of the First World War by volunteering for the French army, but he was rejected because of his age.

He was born into a conservative middle-class family in Lausanne, and there he attended College Cantonal, graduating with a degree in classical studies in 1882. In that year he moved to Paris to study at the Academie Julian. He spent many hours in the Louvre, where he greatly admired the works of Holbein, Durer and Ingres. These artists would remain exemplars for him throughout the life.

In 1891 he executed his first woodcut, a portrait of Paul Verlaine. The many woodcuts he produced during the 1890s were recognized as innovative, and established him as a leader in the revival of true woodcut as an artistic medium. During the 1890s when he was closely allied with the avant-garde, his paintings reflected the style of his woodcuts, with flat areas of colour, hard edges, and simplification of detail. By 1892 he was affiliated with Les Nabis, a group of young artists that included Pierre Bonnard, with whom he was to form a lifelong friendship. His subjects included genre scenes, portraits and nudes. His paintings of the post-Nabi period found admirers, and were generally respected for their truthfulness and their technical qualities, but the severity of his style was frequently criticized: "Everything creaks with an intolerable dryness ... the colours lack all joyfulness." In its uncompromising character his art prefigured the New Objectivity that flourished in Germany during the 1920s, and has a further parallel in the work of Edward Hopper.

In his last years he concentrated especially on still lifes and on "composite landscapes”, landscapes composed in the studio from memory and imagination. Always a prolific artist, by the end of his life he had completed over 1700 paintings and about 200 prints, in addition to hundreds of drawings and several sculptures. He died in Paris.