Vuillard’s Beautiful Vista from Paper and Hide Glue

Edouard Vuillard, Place Vintimille, 1911. Five-panel screen, distemper on paper laid down on canvas, 90 9/16 x 23 5/8 inches (each panel). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gift of Enid A. Haupt

One of the beautiful works in our current Snapshot exhibition is a 5 panel screen, 7 feet by 10 feet, painted in distemper on cardboard, Place Vintimille by Edouard Vuillard (1911).

Distemper in this case is not the viral disease of cats and dogs but a water-based paint, consisting of pigment, whiting, and hide glue. A simple recipe can be found online.

Distemper is a decorative rather than traditional artist’s material, used where permanence is not important.Vuillard probably became familiar and proficient in its use when he worked in theaters painting scenery. It’s cheap, easy to make, and dries fast. Because it uses hide glue as a binder and a pot of it will set up like gelatin, distemper is applied warm. Like gouache, it dries several shades lighter than applied.

Cardboard was a favorite material for Vuillard, since it was so affordable and absorbent. In combination with the matte distemper, he used it to emphasize the flat decorative qualities of his painting. Brown cardboard also acted as a unifying ground for his painting.

Vuillard’s Place Vintimille is an impressive example of a remarkable artist using ordinary materials, the equivalent of shirt cardboard and poster paints.

Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant

This post was originally titled “Distemper: No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of this Screen”, which a reader informed us was clearly erroneous as the hide glue used in distemper certainly implies the demise of the owner of said hide. -ed.

A World in a 3-inch Square

In this photo, taken by Vuillard, note the camera, likely Bonnard's, sitting on the table, pointed at the viewer. Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard in the dining room, Rue des Batignolles, 1897. Gelatin silver print, 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 in. (9 x 9 cm.). Private Collection.

The biggest idea that I took away from our staff tour of Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard, was how experimental, private, and exciting the medium of photography was for these artists. They were not photographers, they were painters. They were men with a passion for visual exploration, enchanted by this easy, instantaneous little device, the snapshot camera. They brought cameras into their homes, took them on trips to the beach, set them on tables in restaurants. They took photos of their children sleeping, their lovers’ gazes, themselves reflected in mirrors, their bustling cities. These images were visual diaries of a sort, little notes about the light of the day, the activities, the emotions. They were never exhibited, occasionally traded, often collected in boxes with letters and other keepsakes. This show brings viewers into the  life of these seven artists, not just with their intimacy, but with the feeling that these memories could belong to any of us.

Director’s Desk: Augustus Vincent Tack

Director Dorothy Kosinski with works by Augustus Vincent Tack installed in the Music Room. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

Over the summer, I presented a gallery talk on a series of 12 works by Augustus Vincent Tack, commissioned by Duncan Phillips in 1928. It is currently reinstalled in the wood-paneled Music Room, for which it was originally created.  Below are excerpts from the discussion. Join me on December 15 at 6:30 pm for the next in our series of Director’s Perspectives, this time on work by Joseph Marioni

Duncan Phillips and Augustus Vincent Tack met in 1914 and developed a deep and enduring friendship. Painter and patron had a lot in common:  both were born in Pittsburgh and both had deep ties to Yale. Tack played an important role in fostering Duncan Phillips’s appreciation of the power and beauty of modern art.

The Phillips Collection owns seventy-five Tack paintings. “Tack” never became a household name. Whether Tack was fashionable was not the point. Duncan Phillips was passionately engaged in supporting emerging American artists alongside Europeans. The project was never about a suite of trophies, but about getting to know the artist and collecting his work in depth. Continue reading