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").
Fig. 1. Self-Portrait, 1895 (wikiart.org)
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.
Fig. 2. Paysage sous bois (kunstkopie.nl)
Fig. 3. Intimacy Couple In Interior, 1898 (wikiart.org)
Fig. 4. The Kiss, 1898 (wikiart.org)
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.
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.
Fig. 5. My Portrait, 1885 (wikiart.org)
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).
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.
Fig. 7. The Three Bathers, 1894 (moma.org)
Fig. 8. L’Emoi (zhongyiminghua.com)
Fig. 9. The Bather (boumbang.com)
Fig. 10. Laziness (Wikimedia.org)
Fig. 11. Paul Verlaine, 1892 (wikiart.org)
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.
Fig. 13. Le Talisman by Paul Sérusier, 1888 (Wikipedia.org)
Fig. 14. Intimacies, The Convincing Reason (vangoghmuseum.nl)
Fig. 15. Intimacies, Five o’clock (vangoghmuseum.nl)
Fig. 16. Intimacies, The health of the other (vangoghmuseum.nl)
Fig. 17. Intimacies, Primers for visit (vangoghmuseum.nl)
Fig. 18. So that's why she didn't come out (arcadiespada.es)
Fig. 19. Perseus Killing The Dragon, 1910 (wikiart.org). Andromeda’s face is hilarious.
Fig. 20. The Rape of Europa, 1908 (wikiart.org)
Fig. 21. Alberto Savinio Ariadne, 1939*
Fig. 22. Roger Delivering Angelica, 1907 (wikiart.org)
Fig. 23. Three Females Playing With Crabs, 1910 (deartibus.it)
Fig. 24. Women At Their Toilet, 1897 (wikiart.org)
Fig. 25. Naked Woman Playing Checkers, 1897 (wikiart.org)
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.