3. Character and personality
Source: Oxford University Press
Vuillard was a likeable man who inspired affection in those close to him. He was of a reserved and quiet rather than extrovert personality, though capable of expressing pent-up emotion in sudden violent outbursts. He was suspicious of some of the more flamboyant of his contemporaries, such as Gauguin, preferring to associate himself with the achievements of such artists as Monet, Degas or Puvis de Chavannes. He weighed his words carefully and thought deeply about his art, as can be seen from his exchange of letters with his theoretically minded friend Maurice Denis in 1898, published in Denis’s Journal. Beset by moral scruples, he frequently agonized over his personal conduct, as is revealed in his journal. Although Vuillard was a bachelor and lived with his mother until her death in 1928, he was very much a part of the Roussel family, lovingly watching and recording the development of their children. He also evidently enjoyed the company of women and had several close female friends; Lucy Hessel, his ‘dragon’ as his mother referred to her, played a particularly influential role in his life. Women and children were the main inspirations for his figure paintings; indeed Vuillard was somewhat puzzled to note this personal predilection in his diary of 1894, quizzing himself on why he tended to envisage men only as sources for comic images while seeing women as sources of beauty.
Despite the successes later in his career, he continued to live modestly; from 1908 he occupied a succession of apartments overlooking Place Vintimille (now Place Adolphe-Max), a quiet residential square near the Montmartre cemetery. Vuillard’s interiors, approached from a realist perspective, are a faithful and telling record both of his own private circumstances and of the changing styles of living in the period during which he worked. Some critics feel that his art was detrimentally affected by his introduction through the Hessels and their grand bourgeois friends to a world of ease, prosperity and sometimes vulgar ostentation; they argue that the essence of his work lay in its sensitivity to the scrubbed, frugal interiors of the Parisian petite bourgeoisie, settings associated with the artist’s mother. In his diary of 1893, Vuillard asked himself the question: ‘Why is it in the familiar places that the mind and the sensibility find the greatest degree of genuine novelty?’ In his later portrait work Vuillard was notorious for changing and omitting nothing, recording the most trivial of details and the most garish of colour combinations. While occasionally the paintings may seem overelaborated and uninspired as a result, he was also capable of approaching an irksome commission with an ironic or at least mischievous eye by which he achieved a telling picture.
From Grove Art Online