I’ve written before about making fresh discoveries in painting even when one prides oneself on being pretty clued up. Today on my birthday I received from my wife a copy of Red by Michel Pastoureau (actually I was lucky enough to get his Black too, from my mother-in-law) and am really looking forward to properly tucking into it. But a first flick through the very good quality reproductions (as always with Princeton University publications) revealed La Chambre Rouge from 1898 by the Nabi artist Félix Vallatton.
Now although I’m aware of his existence I know very little about Vallatton and have seen even less…there doesn’t seem to be a lot of work about in easily accessible locations (certainly in the UK). But this picture was a revelation. One of our favourite paintings is The Red Studio by Matisse (on show at MOMA) that we’ve been fortunate to spend time with on two occasions and it truly is an astonishing and remarkable picture – a game changer in so many ways. But this Vallatton, to me at least, underlines the old maxim that nuttin’ comes from nuttin’, that everything has antecedents and that as Picasso said “good artists borrow, great artists steal” (and of course others have suggested that he nicked that one…possibly from T.S.Eliot). La Chamber Rouge of course doesn’t go all the way that Matisse did but then again it was painted in 1898 when young Henri was still wrestling with divisionism and some twelve years before The Red Studio and it has an extraordinary way of pre figuring the flatness of the latter painting although staying firmly rooted in a form of realism. It too, of course, picks up on other innovations…the mirror punctuates the picture plain in a way reminiscent of a reversal of The Bar at the Folies Bergère and even the figures in the doorway have a kind of reference back to Vermeer in my mind. In any event I now have a voracious appetite for both the books and for more of Vallatton’s work.