2. Working methods and technique
Source: Oxford University Press
At the outset of his career Vuillard worked in conventional media, usually oil on canvas, exploiting the luminous qualities of oil paint in a series of tonal still-lifes. In experimenting with the ideas of his Nabi friends, however, and in emphasizing the flat decorative qualities of his painting, he began to use cardboard, a more solid absorbent base, and cultivated a matt surface, using very dry oil paint and often allowing the light buff or grey colour of the ground to play a vital part in the establishment of relationships of colour and tone. Many of his early Nabi studies were subsequently varnished by others, a practice Vuillard avoided, thereby losing much of their intended muted texture. Around 1890 his drawing style underwent a similar reductive process to his painting, and for a time he deployed simple shapes and strong silhouette-like or cloisonnist outlines.
In a number of his paintings of the mid-1890s, Vuillard’s interest in the patterns and textures of fabrics, wallpapers and carpets and his avoidance of indications of depth produced a dense overall effect and spatial ambiguity. Good examples of such an effect are Large Interior with Six Figures (1897; Zurich, Ksthaus) and Misia and Vallotton in the Dining-room, Rue Saint Florentin (New York, William Kelly Simpson priv. col.). After the turn of the century, however, possibly as a result of his working increasingly from photographs, he returned to a more conventional use of perspective and lightened his palette, concentrating in an almost impressionistic manner on luminosity. His later drawing style became more nervously linear, and when working on a portrait, for example, he patiently built up a dossier of sketches recording fragments and details that were incorporated into the whole at the final stage.
Vuillard is recognized as an artist of great technical expertise. For most of his career, in preference to oil, he used the difficult medium of distemper or peinture à la colle, a water-based medium mixed with glue that dried quickly and left a matt, opaque surface. He had first used distemper in scenery painting in the early 1890s and found its properties suitable for his large decorative panels. After c. 1900 most of Vuillard’s painting in all genres was done in this medium. Because of distemper’s rapid drying time, he was able to build up layer upon layer of paint, so that certain areas of his canvases are thickly encrusted while others are less worked. Over time the distemper has generally hardened. In cases where Vuillard had left insufficient time for the drying process, mixed up a faulty balance of glue and pigment or, as frequently happened with his decorative panels, reworked a canvas after an interval, his paintings have suffered damage from cracking and flaking and pose problems of conservation. For drawing Vuillard particularly favoured pastel after 1900 and again he made full use of the subtle delicacy of this difficult medium.
From Grove Art Online