Occupation: Painter, Printmaker, Art Critic
Movement: Les Nabis
Education: Academie Julian, Paris
Felix Vallotton was a French
art critic, printmaker and painter of Swiss origin, known for his innovative techniques that brought about a revival in the woodcut medium. He was part of the Les Nabis movement early in his career and a member of the New Objectivity group in later years.
Felix Vallotton's Education and Development
Vallotton was born to conservative, middle-class parents in the winter of 1865 in Lausanne, located in the French-speaking region of Romandy in Switzerland. Upon graduating from secondary school, he sought enrollment at the College Cantonal, eventually completing his course in classical studies in 1882.
He moved to Paris later that year and was admitted into the Academie Julian, studying figure painting under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Joseph Lefebvre. Boulanger was known for his Orientalist inclination and this influence is evident in Vallotton’s later work. Being in the French capital also allowed the young artist access to the city’s museums and he spent hours at the Louvre. He was especially interested in portraiture and expressed great admiration for the work of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Albrecht Durer and Hans Holbein the Younger. His own paintings from this period are dry, scholastic exercises, technically proficient canvases such as “Portrait of Monsieur Ursenbach” and his self-portrait of 1885 which got a notable mention at the Salon des Artistes Francais the following year.
Felix Vallotton's Mature Years
The last decade of the 1800s was a prolific period for Vallotton, who was an aspiring artist with literary ambitions as well. Apart from keeping a journal, he wrote a series of art critiques and reviews for local newspapers whilst producing a large number of woodcuts, beginning with a portrait of French Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine in 1891. Later that year, ten of his paintings were selected for the Salon des Independants and were well received by the art community. The exhibition also brought him to the notice of Edouard Vuillard and Paul Serusier, who were in the process of forming Les Nabis – a group of Post-Impressionist artists who would eventually set the pace for graphic art and painting in France. They invited Vallotton to join them, along with Pierre Bonnard and Maurice Denis.
Les Nabis (‘the prophets’) continued the legacy of van Gogh, Gauguin and Lautrec in style and subject matter, amalgamating the techniques of the older masters into a cohesive form. Vallotton’s paintings from this period are a reflection of his woodcut aesthetic – flat surfaces with sharp lines focused on genre scenes and nudes. Though his work
was reviewed favorably, his living came from custom portraits and illustrations for books and magazines.
In 1897, a collective exhibition was organized for Les Nabis at the Ambroise Vollard Gallery in Paris, followed by a show at the Durand Ruel gallery in Paris two years later – around the same season that Vallotton married Gabrielle Rodrigues-Henriques, a widowed mother of three from an affluent family of art dealers.
Felix Vallotton and Post-Nabis
In January of 1903, a dozen of his paintings was exhibited in Vienna to great critical fanfare. Among his new admirers were Gustav Klimt and Ferdinand Hodler, both of whom expressed respect for the work's honesty and execution. It marked a period of commercial success. But despite his rising value as an artist, Vallotton continued to publish the occasional piece of criticism and wrote eight plays and three novels – none of which made much of an impression.
The outbreak of the First World War turned his fortunes, and diminished sales led to financial problems. Rejected from army service because of his advanced age, he moved to Cagnes-sur-Mer and remained there until 1925 when he was diagnosed with cancer. Vallotton died after a failed operation in December of 1925, the day after his 60th birthday. You can buy Felix Vallotton's artworks online
Felix Vallotton's Museums/Collections
Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris
The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore
Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen