Grade Level: 5–6
With Vuillard’s painting of a park in Paris as a backdrop, students will explore the social concepts of parks both in this painting and their own life. They will then embody a character in the painting to write from their perspective. Lastly, they will select an outdoor scene that they will document seasonal and environmental changes through writing and sketching over a long period of time.
Place Vintimille, 1911
five-panel screen, distemper on paper laid down on canvas, overall (each of five panels): 230 x 60 cm (90 9/16 x 23 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Enid A. Haupt
Is there a park you like to visit? What do you like to do there? Is it well taken care of? In what ways can you be a steward of your favorite park or other parks around you?
In 1908, Édouard Vuillard moved with his mother to a fifth-floor apartment with a panoramic view of Place Vintimille (now Place Adolphe Max), a city square adjacent to the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. Between 1909 and 1928, he painted sixty views of the park and took numerous photographs, recording different times of day and different climatic conditions. He painted and took photographs of the park covered in snow, wet with rain, and colorful with autumn leaves. Vuillard also kept a diary in which he noted climatic changes in the park and variations in light and color effects.
This five-panel screen, mounted on a wooden support and backed by wallpaper, shows Place Vintimille from an exhilarating bird’s-eye view. The park is an open space filled with light and air. Around it, apartment buildings and shops rise up to the very edge of the painting, filling the entire sky. Gaps in the foliage allow glimpses of daily life in the park below—a schoolboy kneels to check the air pressure in the front tire of his bicycle, people talk together on benches, a man rests on the sidewalk along the park’s curved fence.
Instead of using oil paints, Vuillard worked with a material called distemper, a combination of powdered pigments, hot glue, and water. He boiled the glue and water for many hours, then mixed the pigments with the liquid, keeping the solution warm to prevent thickening. The fast-drying distemper required quick but carefully planned application and, for areas of correction, reworking with newly mixed colors. Although this method was time-consuming and difficult, Vuillard liked the crusty surface it created. Vuillard was deeply interested in representing everyday life. He was associated with a group of artists who believed in using vivid colors and energetic lines to produce art that was personal, poetic, and expressive.
Students will write from the perspective of a person or animal in this painting. They should describe how they are dressed, what the weather feels like, what activity they are engaged in, and what they see, hear, and smell. They should also imagine what brought them to this particular park: Is it their first visit or do they come here often because they live nearby? Are they on a break from work? out running errands? enjoying a Saturday afternoon? What are their plans after leaving the park?
Like artist Edouard Vuillard, who studied the Place Vintimille in Paris over the course of years, students can study one place for an extended period, noting climatic changes in journal entries and sketches. Have students choose a spot visible from a classroom window and note the changes they see each month. Their diary entries and drawings can be displayed together in an end-of-year exhibition.
VA:Cn10.1.5 Apply formal and conceptual vocabularies of art and design to view surroundings in new ways through art-making.
VA:Cr2.3.5 Identify, describe, and visually document places and/or objects of personal significance.
VA:Re7.1.5 Compare one's own interpretation of a work of art with the interpretation of others.
VA:Re7.2.6 Analyze ways that visual components and cultural associations suggested by images influence ideas, emotions, and actions.
VA:Re8.1.5 Interpret art by analyzing characteristics of form and structure, contextual information, subject matter, visual elements, and use of media to identify ideas and mood conveyed.