Although best known today for the small, intimate interiors he painted in the 1890s while affiliated with the group of artists known as the Nabis (prophets), Edouard Vuillard also produced a number of large decorative works, such as Place Vintimille, for both public buildings and private residences. It was painted for Marguerite Chapin--later the princess of Bassiano--an American expatriate living in Paris whom Vuillard first met in March 1910 through his friend Pierre Bonnard. Shortly after this meeting she commissioned the artist to execute a large decorative panel, The Library (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), for her new apartment at 11, rue de l'Université. Following its installation in late April or early May 1911, Chapin commissioned a second work from Vuillard, the Place Vintimille, a five-panel decorative screen. Vuillard worked rapidly, and by early June 1911 the painting was mounted on a wood support backed by wallpaper and ready for installation in her home.
The painting's subject is the place Vintimille (now the place Adolf-Max) in springtime, as viewed from the artist's Paris apartment. In the summer of 1908, Vuillard took up residence in a fifth floor apartment at 26, rue de Calais, which would remain his home for the next eighteen years. During this time, he painted several street scenes from his window, including three panels showing the place Vintimille in wintertime that were commissioned by the playwright Henry Bernstein and that served as the inspiration for the Chapin screen. The format of Place Vintimille, however, clearly distinguishes it from these earlier paintings, which were closely related but ultimately independent panels executed as part of a larger group depicting the streets of Paris. By contrast, Place Vintimille was clearly a self-contained and articulated whole. While Vuillard was obviously intrigued by this format--he included screens into the backgrounds of several of his paintings--he only produced three such decorative screens, of which Place Vintimille is the last.
In many respects, Place Vintimille is a quintessential example of the artist's mature style. Its subject is drawn from modern life, and it reflects Vuillard's fascination with Japanese art, a passion he shared with fellow Nabis. The format itself--that of a folding screen--was based on Japanese prototypes, while the composition, with its striking bird's-eye view, off-center composition, and casual array of cropped forms and patches of color, seems drawn from Japanese prints. Even Vuillard's seemingly novel choice of medium reflects the artist's personal style. Although he used oil paint throughout his career, by the early twentieth century he was showing a marked preference for distemper, a glue-based paint. Here Vuillard juxtaposed the matte areas of color with the exposed portions of the beige cardboard, allowing the support to become an active part of the composition. The result is a richly patterned surface that retains a remarkable sense of freedom and freshness despite the work's imposing scale.
(Text by Kimberly Jones, published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)