Hat’s Off

Edouard Vuillard at the Morgan Library is the Daily Pic by Blake Gopnik

The Daily Pic: In the 1890s, the great Post-Impressionist used canvas the way others used paper.

This is “The Hats”, a watercolor made by Edouard Vuillard in around 1893 and now in the Morgan Library’s show of recently acquired drawings. I’ve always loved how, in his oil paintings, Vuillard leaves gaps in the paint to let his canvas show through. The beige of the fabric works as an extra tone in Vuillard’s composition. Looking at the Morgan drawings exhibition made me realize that his oil-painting technique might be sourced in drawings (and watercolors), where the blank paper almost always counts as a tone. In Vuillard, however, there’s another source and referent that’s peculiar to him: The textiles in his mother’s dressmaking workshop would have also used their grounds as elements in their designs. That means that all of Vuillard’s paintings can be thought of as figured textiles stretched on a frame – which is what every painted canvas really is.

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