Félix Vallotton (1865 – 1925) is a Swiss artist who lived and worked in the last quarter of the 19th and in the first quarter of the 20th century.
He spent most of his life in France, but remained in his heart a true Swiss – analytical, accurate, practical, impartially true to reality.
He was born in Lausanne, in a protestant family with four children. His father owned a pharmacy, later buying a chocolate factory but experiencing financial troubles in business. His mother was a carpenter’s daughter. Virtue, hardworking, friendly – his family was the epitome of the best in a protestant family.
Félix realized his talent as quite young – in his high school years he took lessons with a local artist who encouraged him to continue his education in arts.
Convincing his family, he went to Paris in 1882, where Félix enrolled in the renowned Julian Art Academie. His teachers there were the renowned artists Boulanger and Lefebvre, but it should be noted that he has not been among their favorites. Maybe that’s why Felix left the academy and continued his studies at Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He has spent much of his time in the Louvre museum to study the works of Leonardo, Dürer and Holbain. He was also a fan of Edward Manet, Goya and Ingres (especially).
During his first long stay in Paris, which lasted over fifteen years, he learned arts and painted intensively. In addition to painting, during this period he did also wood engraving, press illustrations, book illustrations, and theater poster projects. He even tried to write theatre plays and novels, but over time he began focusing more and more on visual arts.
In this first period of his life and work, Félix became friends with a group of Nabi artists, but remained “the alien” for them. He lived mainly from wood-engraved portraits and illustrations. One of his main sponsors and admirers was the publisher Thadee Nathanson, whose family has introduced the painter to the Parisian artistic avant-garde group – Stefan Malarme, Marcel Proust, Claude Debussy, and others.
His work as an engraver deserves special attention during this period. Félix Vallotton has revived and built on the tradition of wood engraving in France.
He left a large number of engraved portraits of famous contemporaries, not just French ones. These portraits give an idea of his subtle psychological flair and his ability to analyze and type characters. To a great extent, they are an interesting human “encyclopedia” from which much can be learned. Félix left many portraits of celebrities of the time – writers, philosophers, poets, statesmen. Among the others, one of the Bulgarian prime ministers Mr.Stambolov was also engraved by Félix Vallotton.
Art critics refer to his rich heritage as belonging to the art styles of “post-impressionism” and “symbolism.” In his first creative period, Félix Vallotton also worked in a specific post-impressionist style called “cloazonism”, which features evenly cououred objects and shapes surrounded by dark contours. One of the most famous cloazonists is Paul Gauguin. Cloazonism contributes significantly to the emergence and development of modernism, mainly through the use of the typical colour separation technique.
It is precisely in Valaton’s cloazonistic works (“Bistro”, “Street Passage”, “Sitting Naked Woman”, etc.) where one can notice his analytic gift and his ability to construct typical characters and situations, as well as his a little bit ironic and biting sense of humor. In a sense, these works give us reason to compare the work of Félix Vallotton with the work of such distinguished writers as Charles Dickens and Honore de Balzac. A classic storyteller in the artist’s skin. Encyclopedia of that time, in engravings and paintings.
In his younger years, Félix shared his life with Helen Chatenay, with whom he has lived for ten years. Then, parting with her, he made a sudden turn in his life – linking his life to the wealthy widow Gabrielle Rodrigues-Henriques, mother of three children and daughter of the famed gallerist Alexandre Bernheim. The family settled down to live on the right bank of the Seine, and Félix completely indulged in painting.
During this second artistic period, his life was calm and balanced. His progress as an artist is obvious.
He mainly painted interior scenes from his daily life, portraits of his wife Gabrielle, still lifes, landscapes. The prevailing colour is warm, the atmosphere – soulful. His technique is brilliant. He repeatedly exposed his works. Gradually his paintings began to sell well.
He moved to the heaven on the next day after turning sixty. A well planned and well-lived human path.
And yet … Where is the thread broken? Where does the soul of this analytical, serious, steady man peek from?
Take a look at his landscapes, these beautiful pictures of nature. How different they are from everything else created by Félix’s hand. Full of tenderness, delicacy, affection, with emotions that remain deeply hidden in his works from other genres. Not prose – poetry in paintings.
The excited crowns of the trees, mysteriously hiding their secrets. Lace outlines of the mountain peaks. The sky – frowning, at sunset, cloudy or calm, but always with character. The sunlight penetrating the clouds. The gentle carpet on the grass. The water embracing the reflection of the moon. The playful turns of the river. The wind telling stories. The boats touching delicately the shore.
Emotions embedded in landscapes. Methodical and disciplined. Even though?
The paintings of Félix Vallotton can be seen at Wikiart here.