4. Critical reception and posthumous reputation
Source: Oxford University Press
Although when first exhibited at Le Barc de Boutteville’s gallery the works of the Nabi group as a whole were considered outrageous, daub-like and incomprehensible by many critics, Vuillard tended to escape the worst attacks and was quickly singled out for praise by such critics as Roger Marx, Thadée Natanson and Léon-Paul Fargue. In the climate of Symbolism, Vuillard’s ability to infuse a mundane subject with an atmosphere of mystery had a special appeal. He was much admired for his abundant natural talents by such contemporary artists as Denis, Signac and Sickert. Vuillard, however, also found a sympathetic audience among writers: he was admired by the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, and his large-scale decorations, exhibited at the Salon d’Automne of 1905, were highly praised by André Gide. Seen against the gathering momentum of developments in 20th-century art for which he felt little sympathy (Fauvism, Cubism and Surrealism), Vuillard’s style seemed to settle as a kind of latter-day Impressionism, and he became accepted as an independent member of the establishment. By the 1920s he could be accused of conservatism by the more avant-garde critics of the day, such as André Lhote, who chided him for the superficiality of attending to modish material details in his portraits and interiors. By the time of his 1938 retrospective, the critic Claude Roger-Marx (the exhibition selector) was of the opinion that Vuillard’s early works, before he was inundated with commissions for demanding clients, had been his greatest achievements. This preference for the early experimental work, a syndrome of modernist criticism, affects the work of many artists who, like Vuillard, made the transition from the avant-garde to the establishment.
Given his particular sensitivity to the study of everyday life, of domestic interiors and their inhabitants, Vuillard has frequently been categorized as an intimiste, belonging to the realist domestic tradition in painting that had its roots in the Netherlands in the 17th century and that was carried forward in France by such artists as Watteau, Chardin and Corot. Since Vuillard’s death, his qualities as a colourist and an experimenter in tone have continued to be celebrated. The mysterious magic of his early interiors continues to hold the widest appeal, while his considerable achievements in the sphere of decorative painting are beginning to be more fully appreciated.
From Grove Art Online