Description & Technical information

The interior depicted in the present sheet is the large drawing room or billiard room of the Château des Clayes, a château near Versailles which was the country estate of Edouard Vuillard’s close friends, the Belgian-born art dealer Jos (Joseph) Hessel and his wife and Lucy. The director of the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune and later an independent dealer, Jos Hessel (1859-1942) was Vuillard’s principal agent and dealer for the latter part of his career, while Lucy Hessel was to be the artist’s muse, model and, most likely, lover for almost forty years. 

As one scholar has described him, ‘Jos Hessel was one of the first art dealers of a kind that is familiar today: he sought out gifted contemporaries, found patrons and commissions for them, and looked after their interests in general…As an impresario, Hessel was energetic and resourceful and made himself indispensable. Shortly after 1900 Vuillard and the Hessels became inseparable, spending almost every evening together in the Hessels’ Paris apartment. During the summer Vuillard traveled or went to Brittany and Normandy with them, and in later years he became a semipermanent guest at their country houses on the outskirts of Paris.’ The Hessels moved to the Château des Clayes in 1926, and Vuillard was to become a frequent visitor to the house, where he had his own room. Indeed, Les Clayes, conveniently close to Paris and with its large park designed by André Le Nôtre, became the artist’s rural retreat for the last decade of his life. As Kimberly Jones has noted, ‘The time he spent away from Paris in the countryside was essential to Vuillard’s productivity; it offered him repose, but also a change of scenery that helped expand his own perceptions of the world around him.’
In later years Jacques Salomon, the artist’s nephew by marriage, recalled of Vuillard at Les Clayes that ‘he was constantly drawing his friends, and those who found his eye upon them knew they must hold the pose in which he had caught them...I can still picture Vuillard at a social gathering. He would suddenly look intently at a group...with a direct stare. Then his face would grow grave, and without taking his eyes off his subjects he would whip his notebook out of his pocket...and, without hesitation, start to draw. He worked with great speed, scarcely glancing at his paper, entirely preoccupied by the sight before him.’

The large canvas seen here hanging above the fireplace behind the seated figure of Jos Hessel is a painting of The Sleeping Diana of c.1924 by Ker-Xavier Roussel, Vuillard’s brother-in-law and fellow Nabis. The painting, which can be seen in photographs of the interior of Les Clayes in 19307, was destroyed in a fire at the château in 1944. An oil sketch for the painting is today in the collection of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. Also seen in the present sheet, on top of the mantlepiece, is a small bust by the sculptor Aristide Maillol. The bust, which would appear to be a portrait of Lucy Hessel, recently appeared at auction in Paris. A related preparatory study for this drawing, executed in pastel and pencil, is in a private collection in Paris. 

Vuillard’s domestic interior scenes, which usually include members of his family and close friends, ‘are not intended as portraits, nor are they genre paintings in the true sense of the term. Rather, they are evocations of the private world of the artist’s personal experience...[and] provide a tantalizing view into a cloistered and rarefied world…’ A stylistically comparable pastel by Vuillard depicting the top of the mantlepiece and the Maillol bust, with the Roussel painting behind, was on the art market in c.2004.

The present sheet belonged to the Hessels and was inherited by their adopted daughter Lulu Grandjean-Hassel, later Mme. Jacques Arpels (1921-2004), who appears in many of Vuillard’s paintings, drawings and photographs after 1930.

Period:  20th century
Origin:  France
Medium: Laid down on board, Pastel on pink paper
Signature: Signed E Vuillard at the lower right. 

Dimensions: 30.5 x 22.4 cm (12 x 8⁷/₈ inches)
Provenance: Acquired from the artist by Jos and Lucy Hessel, Paris and the Château des Clayes, near Versailles
By descent to their daughter, Lucie (Lulu) Grandjean-Hessel (Mme. Jacques Arpels), Paris
Thence by descent.

Literature: Antoine Salomon and Guy Cogeval, Vuillard: The Inexhaustible Glance. Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, Milan, 2003, Vol.III, p.1575, no.XII-247 (where dated c.1930-1938).

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints