Past, Present, Memories: Analysing Edouard Vuillard’s 'La Terrasse at Vasouy'

Anne Robbins and Kate Stonor
Technical Bulletin Volume 33, 2012

Abstract

Throughout his life Edouard Vuillard painted large-scale decorations destined for public and private spaces. Among the latter, 12 ensembles survive, often executed in distemper; the National Gallery’s Terrasse at Vasouy is one of these. Commissioned in 1901 by sportsman and writer Jean Schopfer (who wrote under the 'nom de plume' Claude Anet) for his Paris apartment, 'La Terrasse at Vasouy' depicts members of the literary and artistic Paris of the time in the garden of a villa on the Normandy coast. Originally a single large painting later divided into two separate compositions, the panels suffered a troubled afterlife: dispersed, reunited, yet wrongly identified, they were largely overlooked for decades, and their present state reflects these vicissitudes.

Taking into account contemporary documents – including early 20th century photographs of 'La Terrasse' and diary entries – as well as technical evidence, this article attempts to disentangle their complicated history. X-radiographs and pigment identification (the first such examinations of the paintings) help determine what the picture looked like in the first instance, as well as better understand the division procedure and the extent of the alterations to both panels.

Vuillard’s famed distemper technique, using rabbit skin glue and dry pigments, is here investigated, with emphasis placed on his complex palette, which included newly-elaborated, expensive pigments. ‘Titanium white’, only recently invented, was used by Vuillard when reworking the panels in 1935, allowing the later painting campaign – when the artist opted for a new, more naturalistic and conservative style – to be readily distinguished from the earlier, and better understood.

Keywords 

Edouard Vuillard, Jean Schopfer, Claude Anet, La revue blanche, distemper, glue, matt paint, painting technique, X-radiography, Lefranc, dry pigments: titanium white, zinc white, lithopone, barium sulphate, Prussian blue, French ultramarine, cobalt blue, cobalt violet, cerulean blue, Naples yellow, strontium yellow, cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, cobalt green, viridian, red earth, red lake, alizarin crimson, madder, vermilion, orange earth, umber, bone black, charcoal black

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To cite this article we suggest using

Robbins, A., Stonor, K. 'Past, Present, Memories: Analysing Edouard Vuillard’s "La Terrasse at Vasouy"'. National Gallery Technical Bulletin Vol 33, pp 82–112.
http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/technical-bulletin/robbins_stonor2012


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