Au buffet stamped 'E. Vuillard' (lower right) oil on cardboard 23 x 20cm (9 1/16 x 7 7/8in). Painted circa 1894-95
PROVENANCE Studio of the artist. Collection of Monsieur and Madame Dardari. Anon. sale, Drouot-Montaigne, Paris, 8 June 2000, lot 3.
LITERATURE A. Salomon & G. Cogeval, Vuillard, The Inexhaustible Glance, Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, Paris, 2003, vol.I, no.V-78 (illustrated p.417).
Painted during Vuillard's close involvement with the Nabis group in the 1890s, the present work depicts a shadowy woman in a black coat and hat leaning over a buffet table, while a balding gentleman in evening dress stands to one side. Along with fellow artists Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Paul Sérusier and Ker-Xavier Roussel, the Nabis were influenced by the work of Paul Gauguin and sought to create purely pictorial art, using simplified forms, flattened perspectives, dramatic lighting and exaggerated colours all of which are exhibited in Au buffet.
Mealtimes were a common subject for this group of artists, allowing them to portray emotionally charged scenarios between family members within the seemingly banal setting of domesticity, often dominated by patterned décor. Here however, Vuillard appears to present us with two strangers in a more formal setting any sense of relationship between the two is obscured by the gentleman's turned posture and the woman's hazy and inscrutable form.
Receding as an almost negative shape, she is the nominal subject of the work yet the vivid yellow background threatens to overpower her. Vuillard's tactile brushstrokes and striking use of colour disturbs the viewer's sense of perspective and flattens both figures against the picture plane. Placing them thus in shadow, Vuillard mirrors the theatre's use of dramatic lighting. Having designed sets and backdrops throughout his career and co-founding the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre in 1893, the stage influenced both his style and subjects.
Typical of his studies of daily life in Paris throughout the 1890s, Vuillard presents us with an apparently everyday subject in Au buffet, but the ominous palette, reduction of form and flattening of perspective provides the viewer with a rather more disturbing reality, and a style which looks forward to the development of abstract art in the twentieth century.