Félix VALLOTTON | The ball (Corner of the park with child playing with a ball) [Le ballon (Coin de parc avec enfant jouant au ballon)]

Switzerland 1865 – France 1925

The ball (Corner of the park with child playing with a ball)
[Le ballon (Coin de parc avec enfant jouant au ballon)]
oil on card, laid on wood panel
panel 48.0 (h) x 61.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Bequest of Carle Dreyfus 1953
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Félix Vallotton’s dynamic image of a young child chasing a ball in a park creates a sense of tension. The painting is constructed using a limited palette of colours, a high viewpoint and a textured surface. The child runs across a smooth, ochre-coloured ground bordered by an expanse of green grass. A dramatic curve cuts across the painting where these two surfaces meet. The thick rounded foliage of a large tree hangs darkly over the scene.

Vallotton’s use of light contributes to the sense of unease. The composition is divided in half vertically with the left side of the canvas in shadow and the right in sunshine. The tentacles of a menacing shadow reach out towards the child. The crispness of the child’s shadow forms an intriguing shape on the earth.

A second ball is hard to distinguish in the tree’s shadow. We notice two figures in the distance both dressed in full-length garments; one in white and the other in blue.

Vallotton’s painting raises many questions: are there other children outside the frame of this image?; who are the people in the distance?;  what is their relationship to the child?; why do we feel like voyeurs looking down on this scene? The artist creates an ominous atmosphere as though we are complicit in the action of some psychological thriller. 

Born into a conservative middle-class family in Switzerland Vallotton developed a reputation in Paris mainly as a printmaker. He stopped producing prints in 1899 in order to concentrate on his paintings,  however his work retained its graphic style.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From audio tour Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay