[Edouard Vuillard] was never really neglected. But art historians tended to look on him as a flash that flickered out before the end of the 19th century. This view was held even though Vuillard, who died in 1940 at 71, painted well into the 20th century. In recent years, however, Vuillard has been treated with more seriousness and studied with greater intensity. The first fruit of the recent Vuillard scholarship is a retrospective of more than 200 works that opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in January. After it closes there in April, it travels to Montreal, Paris and London. It is the first Vuillard retrospective since one in Paris in 1938. The present show is of grand scale because the chief curator, Guy Cogeval, director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, has tried to showcase Vuillard's greatest paintings while revealing a new view of his life. To bolster this biographical side, Cogeval has included lesser known Vuillard works such as his theatrical programs and posters, photographs, early 20th century landscapes and later portraits. Moreover, Cogeval believes that many of Vuillard's best- known paintings represent scenes from a dramatic personal story, and the curator includes batches of these scenes to complete the story.
Cogeval's view of Vuillard's life comes from six years of study of the artist's private papers, now in the hands of Antoine Salomon, grandson of Vuillard's sister. Vuillard, a bachelor who lived with his mother until he was 60, has often been described, as Cogeval puts it, as "a monkish recluse" who was "too shy to be a man about town." Cogeval has unearthed evidence of several significant love affairs, and Vuillard's letters and journal make it clear, according to Cogeval, that he was a "colorful, quietly bossy and sometimes bad- tempered character" who had many friends in Paris.