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Félix Vallotton

Famille d'arbres, 1922
oil on canvas
100.0 x 73.0 cm
Félix Vallotton transforms a group of ordinary trees here, first sketched from nature near Honfleur, into a cleverly structured composition. In the foreground, the diagonal that is created by the meadow, dotted with touches of colour, is balanced by the oblique in the sky formed by the dense foliage overlooking the plain. The same formal resonance appears between the thin ropes of the fence, which seem to vibrate against the background of the fresh young grass, and the wave of tree trunks, whose outlines loom against a bright sky.

This type of “composed landscape” is characteristic of Vallotton from the turn of the 20th century on. The artist sought to shake off any overly literal respect for nature. Composed from notes and sketches and painted in the studio, this landscape is divided into well-defined overlapping zones. Vallotton eliminates details in favour of masses of colour that define the vegetation in large but dense zones, emphasising the stark contrasts. The impression of an unreal nature is reinforced by the use of forceful tones: green bordering on yellow for the grass, then bands of vivid, occasionally dark green, and a gradation of greyish pinktoneswithlavenderblueechoesinthebackground, like the distant hint of a setting sun.

The clearly outlined, flatly coloured forms, associated with the decorative interpretation of the foreground, show just how present the vestiges of the Nabi aesthetic are in Vallotton’s mature work. Furthermore, the recurrent motifs of Japanese prints surface here once again in the slender, gracefully drawn out tree trunks, the winding convolutions of the leaves’ outline, and the grid motif, visible in the curtain of trees and the fence. This likewise evinces the lasting influence of Japan in Vallotton’s late work. The combination of decorative arabesques and zones painted in relatively flat unvarying colours renders the nature described by Vallotton vivid, undulating and utterly static.
Félix Vallotton, Famille d'arbres, 1922