Curator: Marina Ferretti, Sylvie Wuhrmann
Among the nabis, Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940), "the nabi with the red beard", is certainly the one who owned the largest number of ukiyo-e prints. It brings together up to one hundred and eighty, acquired inexpensively at Bon Marché or Printemps. Inspired by Japanese landscapes, geishas or kabuki actors, they are signed by the masters of wood engraving: Hiroshige, Hokusai, Kunisada, Kuniyoshi, Eisan and more rarely Utamaro. Some appear in the photographs of the artist's salon-studio, simply pinned to the wall. His collection also included ten paintings on silk and several illustrated books, including Volume 6 of Hokusai's Manga.
It was probably the major exhibition devoted to the art of Japan by the École des Beaux-Arts in 1890 that decided Vuillard to take an interest in an aesthetic hitherto neglected by academic circuits. If Pierre Bonnard was designated by his comrades as the "Japan nabi", let us remember that, from Maurice Denis to Paul Ranson, none of his Nabis friends showed himself indifferent to the art of the country of the Rising Sun. Because the wave of Japonism then upset the artistic standards of an entire generation of young painters in love with novelty. Like many of them, around 1914 Vuillard turned away from an aesthetic language that had become a commonplace of modernity. It was therefore the rediscovery of the classical tradition and the frequentation of the Louvre that inspired him.
Like the masters of ukiyo-e, Vuillard does not claim to deliver any message other than the celebration of daily life and nature. From 1890 to the First World War, references to Japanese art deeply permeated his work as a painter, draftsman and lithographer. Without making any concessions to a very hackneyed exoticism, he enriches his art by freely adopting the codes honored in the land of the Rising Sun. Vuillard then multiplies unexpected formats, new points of view and asymmetrical compositions. Often, he neglects the Albertian perspective and prefers to create a feeling of space by boldly juxtaposing a close foreground and a distant shot. Without worrying about the expression of the modeling or the volume, he synthesizes the forms by using the flat and the arabesque, and often likes to multiply the effects of textures.