January 4, 2011

Félix Vallotton's Woodblock Prints

        Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) was one of the artists who helped to turn printmaking into an art in its own right, as opposed to merely a method of reproduction.  Like many artists of his generation, he was influenced by the Japanese woodcuts which were then being presented in Europe, and he was also interested in Symbolism.  His unique and innovative style, however, led the way for others.  Signatures of his style are large areas of pure black and white, emphasizing outline and shapes, without using hatching for shading or modelling.  He also has a very modern sense of cropping and leaving areas hidden.  His subjects are often domestic scenes, and his most famous works are a series of ten scenes dealing with relationships between men and women, published in 1898 and called  Intimités (Intimacies).  Of course he also did a variety of other subjects, including political scenes and a series of views from the First World War.  My favorite of his works are those that combine strong graphic quality with a hint of humor.
        Look at the use of black in this piece from his Intimacies series.  You can see how this was new, bold, and innovative if you compare it with the traditional sort of woodcut, all cross-hatching and little details, used to reproduce sketches in books.  You can also see how Vallotton influenced the Expressionists.  I wonder whether his use of the pattern on the pot as a major design element was an influence on Matisse.
        This one, The Violin, reminds me of Film Noir with Vallotton's characteristics of stark black and white, cropping and hiding elements.  You can see the same characteristics in The Bibliophile, (the first image, above) with just a bit of humor, too.

        Notice in The Piano how unafraid Vallotton is of big blobs of undifferentiated black.  I would be utterly incapable of making my own version of this scene without putting a white outline around the man's beard, arms, and back -- and yet clearly outlines are unneeded.  I also like the bold, large-scale wallpaper which you might think would distract from the subject, but somehow it doesn't.  (Matisse again?)


        Vallotton was a prolific artist and did lots of painting, too, but I think his woodcuts are where he forged his own style and came up with something really special.




[Pictures: Irreparable, from Intimacies, woodblock print by Félix Vallotton, 1898;
The Violin, woodblock print by Vallotton, 1896;
The Bibliophile, woodblock print by Vallotton, 1911;
The Piano, woodblock print by Vallotton, 1896;
The Jungfrau, woodblock print by Vallotton, 1892;
(Thanks to Zeno for all these images.)]

9 comments:

  1. Great posting. I agree that Valloton was a major innovative figure. But recall that he was surrounded by characters such as Toulouse-Lautrec who also had an imaginative twist on perspective, space, and contrast. Much of this work was used for advertisements, and magazine illustrations, especially covers. Valloton demonstrates unequivocally that less is more, that simplicity in printmaking can express a heap of emotion. Interestingly he did tint some of his prints with colored pencil and watercolor. They don't have the same power. Keep up the good work -- this is a great blog.
    The Aging Wordsmith

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  2. Thanks! And thanks for all your comments.

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  3. very interesting. I enjoy his work very much.

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  4. I wish you post some more pictures of his woodblocks, I can't seem to find more pictures online.

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  5. Hello, Jasmine. Well, I sometimes I have to hold myself back from posting too much!
    But for images of more of his work try
    http://rectoversoblog.com/2011/02/01/felix-vallottons-reinvention-of-the-woodcut/
    or do an image search on "felix valloton woodblock prints"
    or click on the link for Zeno below the listing of pictures. There are loads more posted there.

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  6. My name is Frédéric Vallotton, I'm a far cousin of the painter, thank's for this nice article. Do you his self portraits ? very interesting paintings. He did it with woodblock too.

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  7. Hello, Frédéric; thanks for commenting! His woodblock portraits are definitely also very interesting. The one of Edgar Allan Poe is probably the most famous, but I do enjoy his self-portraits, too.

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  8. Thanks for this blog. Vallatton is a master of woodblock prints but of other media as well.
    He is relatively unknown unfortunately.

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  9. Hi. Did Vallotton ever just sign paintings "Felix" excluding his last name?

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