Félix Edouard Vallotton was born on 28 December 1865, in Lausanne, Switzerland. He was brought up in the Swiss Protestant tradition, graduating with a degree in classical studies from the Collège Cantonal in 1882. Whilst studying, he began to take classes in drawing and upon completion of his degree moved to Paris where he settled in the neighbourhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. He enrolled at the Académie Julian and frequented the Louvre to copy from the Old Masters. In 1887, he exhibited at the Paris Salon for the first time, though the extreme realism of the two exhibited portraits were criticised by his professor, Jules Lefebvre, on account of their departure from the traditions of portrait painting.
Vallotton also exhibited at the Paris Universal Exposition (1889), where he discovered Japanese prints, which would greatly influence his work henceforth. In 1890, he took up a role as art critic for La Gazette de Lausanne, and the following year began to explore printmaking. He would eventually make over one-hundred and twenty woodcuts between 1891 and 1901, abandoning the rich colours of ukiyo-e in favour of the contrast of black and white; he did adopt the Japanese technique of cutting with the grain of the wood however, facilitating the curved shapes and elegant lines synonymous with his style. Vallotton executed numerous print commissions for French and foreign periodicals, including Le Cri de Paris and La Revue Blanche, the latter of which published his celebrated series of ten vignettes, Intimités, 1897-98, that captured the intimacies of bourgeois society with sardonic wit.
Vallotton shared a live for japonisme with the Nabis, whom he joined in 1892. In his painting, he adopted the flat shapes, block colours and symbolist qualities associated with the group, though he developed a uniquely disquieting psychological intrigue and narrative tension, best exemplified in his depictions of interiors around the turn of the century. In 1899, Vallotton married Gabrielle Rodrigues-Hénriques, whose wealth elevated him into the echelons of bourgeois society that he so despised, but simultaneously provided him the opportunity to paint, executing several notable portraits of the disbanded Nabis (1905) and Gertrude Stein (1907), as well as dream-like landscapes painted from memory – paysages composés (‘composed landscapes’). He also revisited woodcuts in 1915 to express his anti-war sentiment. Amidst increasing health problems, Vallotton died on 29 December 1925, in Paris.
Vallotton’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Kunstmuseum Basel; Kunsthaus Zürich; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the Tate Collection, London.
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