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Modern Portraits

Explore how early modern painters pushed the boundaries of traditional portraiture.

Interior, Mother and Sister of the Artist

Édouard Vuillard
(French, 1868–1940)

1893. Oil on canvas, 18 1/4 x 22 1/4" (46.3 x 56.5 cm)

Édouard Vuillard painted the people and places he knew best: his home and family, his mother’s dressmaking workroom, and the city dwellers enjoying the parks and gardens of Paris. In Interior, Mother and Sister of the Artist, he presents a double portrait of his mother and sister at home. His mother commands the center of the composition, her face and hands strikingly pale against her deep black dress. Widowed when Vuillard was 15, she supported him and his two siblings by going into business as a dressmaker. Beside her stands Vuillard’s sister, whose awkward, shrinking pose contrasts with her mother’s strong posture. The mottled wallpaper that covers the wall against which his sister stands blends with her patterned dress, practically engulfing her. Both women appear seamlessly merged with their setting. Its colors match that of their skin, hair, and dresses, while its extreme angles and patterns make the space seem to close in on them.

Dissatisfied with the rigidly representational painting methods taught at the art academies, Vuillard emphasized color, pattern, and surface decoration over naturalism in his work. In 1888, he and his peers formed the Nabis (Hebrew for “prophet”), a fellowship of artists who embraced decoration and the use of form and color for spiritual and emotional expression.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

Faithful adherence to nature; factual or realistic representation.

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent (noun); the act of producing a picture using paint (verb, gerund).

The context or environment in which a situation occurs.

The visual portrayal of someone or something.

The way a figure is positioned.

A representation of a particular individual, usually intended to capture their likeness or personality.

A series of events, objects, or compositional elements that repeat in a predictable manner.

The shape or structure of an object.

A facial aspect indicating an emotion; also, the means by which an artist communicates ideas and emotions.

The arrangement of the individual elements within a work of art so as to form a unified whole; also used to refer to a work of art, music, or literature, or its structure or organization.

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.