A Boy’s Best Friend is His Mother: Misia, Lucy, and Mom in the Lens of Vuillard

In honor of Valentine’s Day, this is the last in a series of three love stories, featuring artists in the Snapshot exhibition—Pierre Bonnard, Henri Evenepoel, and Edouard Vuillard—and the ladies they loved. We conclude our tribute to the love lives of Snapshot artists with the three women Vuillard featured prominently in his work.

Poor Edouard Vuillard. Never married, Vuillard always seemed to fall for unattainable (read: married) women and lived with his mother until she passed away in his sixties. While it’s safe to assume he had some mother issues, he was by no means Norman Bates from Psycho. Vuillard was quiet and reserved. He preferred to be among close family and friends. His introverted personality informed the small but exquisitely patterned interior and exterior scenes depicted in his paintings and photographs. Vuillard often portrayed those closest to him, and the majority of his works in Snapshot are populated by three women who captured his heart: Misia Natanson, Lucy Hessel, and his mother.

Vuillard’s first romantic inspiration was Misia Natanson. Misia was an “it” girl of 1890s Paris and an accomplished pianist. Married to publisher Thadée Natanson who featured prints by artists including Vuillard and Bonnard in his journal La revue blanche, Misia charmed her way effortlessly through artistic circles. Vuillard became enamored of her around 1895, and soon these feelings dominated his work. She is a main focus of both his paintings and photographs from the 1890s like the ones below.

Edouard Vuillard, (left) Thadée and Misia Natanson in the salon, Rue St. Florentin, 1898. Gelatin silver print; 3 ½ x 3 ½ in. Private collection. (right) In Front of the Tapestry: Misia and Thadée Natanson, Rue St. Florentin, 1899. Oil on board; 19 x 20 in. Private collection.

At the time of his association with the Natansons, Vuillard had only recently begun to experiment with photography, and he found in Misia a willing subject with whom to explore the medium. He loved to pose her in lavish interiors and dramatic compositions, playing with decorative patterns and shadows. He captured her flirtatious nature in outdoor settings as well. Even when her husband is in the picture, Vuillard’s focus is on Misia and her youthful exuberance. She seems to relish the attention, perhaps giving in a bit to Vuillard’s admiration for her. Continue reading