France 1868 – 1940
Public gardens: conversation, nurses, the red parasol
[Jardins public: la conversation, les nourrices, l'ombrelle rouge] 1894
distemper on canvas
overall 214.0 (h) x 308.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Purchase, ex-collection Alexandre Natanson 1929
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Jean Schormans
These are five of the nine-panel ensemble designed by Edouard Vuillard for the ground floor salon of a house in Paris. The full ensemble dominated the walls of the room and created an impressive panorama. The installation of the panels was celebrated in 1894 with a lavish soirée.
The panels display a number of separate vignettes set in public gardens in Paris. Figure groupings include children playing, nannies conversing and a lone figure sitting on a park bench. Even though each panel is a distinct entity, a backdrop of vegetation and cloudy sky unites the overall scene. Decorative shadows also create visual consistency across the panels.
Vuillard’s inspiration to create these paintings came from his admiration for tapestries seen at the Musée de Cluny and his knowledge of Japanese art. His technique involved mixing dry pigments with rabbit glue, after which he heated the mixture to a liquid state. This medium required the artist to work quickly to achieve a smooth, matt paint surface in a similar way to that of Italian fresco painting.
Until he was sixty, Vuillard lived with his mother who was a dressmaker. Her influence can be seen in the intricate patterning and decorative nature of many of his paintings.
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