felix vallotton Perseus Killing the Dragon
7 min

The Little Bathers Of Swiss-French Artist Félix Vallotton

7 min

Félix Edouard Vallotton (1865-1925) was a Swiss-French painter and printmaker, working in many genres. Besides landscapes and still lives, he produced a lot of depictions of nudes entitled Petites Baigneuses ("little bathers"). 

Félix Edouard Vallotton self portrait

Fig. 1. Self-Portrait, 1895 (wikiart.org)

Strangely Attractive

Vallotton portrayed his models humorously and engagingly, with all their little imperfections, which make them strangely attractive to the viewer. Some images are more stylized, others are more realistic, yet these melancholic females can evoke in your mind Shakespearean Sonnet 130 since they look like ordinary women, not like nymphs or fairies, and that's why they are so precious. 

felix vallatton Paysage sous bois

Fig. 2. Paysage sous bois (kunstkopie.nl)

felix valloton Intimacy Couple In Interior

Fig. 3. Intimacy Couple In Interior, 1898 (wikiart.org)

felix vallotton The KissFig. 4. The Kiss, 1898 (wikiart.org)

Chocolate Factory

Vallotton was born in a family of a pharmacist who also owned a chocolate factory. Since 1875, he had been attending the Collège Cantonal and attained a degree in classical studies seven years later. During that period, he also studied in drawing classes of Jean-Samson Guignard, which made him determined to study art in Paris professionally. In 1882, he relocated to Saint-Germain-des-Prés and enrolled in Académie Julian, where his mentors were portrait and history painters. A year later, Vallotton's father wrote a letter to his teacher Lefebvre asking whether his son would earn a living as a painter. Lefebvre responded that Vallotton was talented enough to make a career as an artist, so his studies continued. 

Exceptional Realism

In 1883, the artist got an opportunity to study in the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, having won the entrance competition, but eventually, he preferred to stay at the academy. In 1885, Vallotton began exhibiting at the Paris Salon. His first works, among which was his self-portrait, may draw one's attention with exceptional realism that was criticized by Lefebvre. 

 Felix vallotton My Portrait

Fig. 5. My Portrait, 1885 (wikiart.org)

 Felix Stanislas Jasinski

Fig. 6. Felix Stanislas Jasinski, 1887 (wikiart.org)

Impressed By Hokusai

Let's mention that at the beginning of his career, in 1889, Vallotton saw the prints of Hokusai at the Paris Universal Exposition, which deeply influenced him. Probably, it's because of Hokusai that Vallotton started experimenting with printmaking. His first woodcut was a portrait of Paul Verlaine (Fig. 11). The simplicity of Vallotton's monochrome prints, to some extent, resembles the pop-art works of Andy Warhol. The artist's approach lied in simplifying an initial precise drawing. His activity as a printmaker affected his painting style, which is visible in Bathers on a Summer Evening, 1892 (Fig. 12). 

Two-dimensional Figures

Way Vallotton depicts female bodies is very similar to the two-dimensional figures in ukiyo-e prints. Some women in the background are portrayed in western 3d, others, especially maidens combing their hair, resemble those of Utamaro, so the whole scene is highly amusing. The work was criticized by the audience, yet the artist's shift from realism to post-impressionism is remarkable. 

felix vallotton The Three Bathers 

Fig. 7. The Three Bathers, 1894 (moma.org)

 felix vallotton L’Emoi

Fig. 8. L’Emoi (zhongyiminghua.com)

felix vallotton The Bather

Fig. 9. The Bather (boumbang.com)

felix vallotton Laziness

Fig. 10. Laziness (Wikimedia.org)

 felix vallotton Paul Verlaine

Fig. 11. Paul Verlaine, 1892 (wikiart.org)

felix vallotton Bathers on a Summer Evening

Fig. 12. Bathers on a Summer Evening, 1892 (wikiart.org)

Among The Nabis

From 1892 to 1900, Vallotton was a member of Les Nabis, a group of artists from Académie Julian, who earlier caused Vallotton's decision to stay there, as he wanted to be with his friends. Les Nabis or The Prophets were postimpressionist artists working between impressionism and abstractionism. Their first painting Le Talisman, produced by Paul Sérusier under the guidance of Paul Gauguin in 1888, is one of the earliest examples of abstract art (Fig. 13). 

Interest In Gauguin

The styles of the members quite differed, though the artists shared an interest in Gauguin and Japanese art. Les Nabis was rather a semi-secret group of friends than an artistic community with definite views and art theories. By 1900, artists had separated. One of the reasons for their breakup was the Dreyfus affair, on which artists had contrary opinions.

 felix vallotton Le Talisman by Paul Sérusier

Fig. 13. Le Talisman by Paul Sérusier, 1888 (Wikipedia.org)

felix vallotton Intimacies, The Convincing Reason

Fig. 14. Intimacies, The Convincing Reason (vangoghmuseum.nl)

felix vallotton Intimacies, Five o’clock

Fig. 15. Intimacies, Five o’clock (vangoghmuseum.nl)

felix vallotton Intimacies, The health of the other

Fig. 16. Intimacies, The health of the other (vangoghmuseum.nl)

felix vallotton  Intimacies, Primers for visit

Fig. 17. Intimacies, Primers for visit (vangoghmuseum.nl)

felix vallotton So that's why she didn't come out

Fig. 18. So that's why she didn't come out (arcadiespada.es)

felix vallotton Perseus Killing the Dragon

Fig. 19. Perseus Killing The Dragon, 1910 (wikiart.org). Andromeda’s face is hilarious.

felix vallotton The Rape of Europa

Fig. 20. The Rape of Europa, 1908 (wikiart.org)

 felix vallotton Alberto Savinio Ariadne

Fig. 21. Alberto Savinio Ariadne, 1939*

felix vallotton  Roger Delivering Angelica

Fig. 22. Roger Delivering Angelica, 1907 (wikiart.org)

 felix vallotton Three Females Playing With Crabs

Fig. 23. Three Females Playing With Crabs, 1910 (deartibus.it)

 felix vallotton Women At Their Toilet

Fig. 24. Women At Their Toilet, 1897 (wikiart.org)

felix vallotton Naked Woman Playing Checkers

Fig. 25. Naked Woman Playing Checkers, 1897 (wikiart.org)

felix vallotton felix vallotton Naked Woman Playing Checkers

Fig. 26. Woman With Maid Bathing, 1896 (wikiart.org)

The extended Premium version of this article is twice as long, paying attention to Vallotton's prominent woodcut series Intimacies, the distinctive feature of his nudes, his humor and sarcastic revisiting of traditional plots of academist paintings, and contains three times as much images.

Click HERE for the flirtatious bathing women in the photography of Mary Willumsen.

Sources: Wikipedia.org; *I. Mosin. All About Painting: Surrealism. 2012, p. 88.