Édouard VUILLARD | Sleep [Le sommeil]

France 1868 – 1940

[Le sommeil]
oil on canvas
canvas 33.0 (h) x 64.5 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Purchased from the aritst 1936
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Snuggled up under the covers with eyes tightly shut, this figure is in a deep, peaceful sleep. The focus of Edouard Vuillard’s painting is the head of the figure and the soft pillows at the top of the bed. The darkened room makes it difficult to discern other features in the space.

Vuillard works with blocks of colour to create shapes. In sections of the composition the maroon background colour emerges through an upper layer, providing some definition to the forms.

The dark tones of the olive green covers and background dominate the painting and echo the silence of sleep. The maroon colour is also found on the floor, in the wood of the bed and the cast off slippers. In contrast to these muted tones, our eyes notice the orange piece of discarded clothing on the chair and the creaminess of the pillows and sheets.

In 1887, Vuillard passed the entrance exam for the Ecole des Beaux- Arts, the official School of Fine Arts in Paris. Soon after his graduation, he joined a group called the Nabis, which included fellow artists and friends Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis and Paul Serusier.

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