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Port (Un port)

Painting, 1901, 57×62 cm
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Description of the artwork «Port (Un port)»

The now-forgotten Félix Vallotton, an artist from the Nabi group, managed to reach the peak of his glory during his lifetime. His exhibitions were held even in the Russian Empire (namely in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kyiv and Odesa). The artist himself also visited Russia on business.

Félix’s brother Paul sold Swiss chocolate and paintings. He had a business partner Georges Haasen, who settled in St. Petersburg in 1906 to represent the interests of the chocolate firm, and became Georgii Emmanuilovich Gaazen. It was on his invitation that in 1913 Vallotton arrived to the Russian capital to paint portraits of the entrepreneur’s family members. After the revolution, six of Vallotton’s paintings from Haasen’s collection found themselves in the Hermitage.

Born in Switzerland in a notary’s family and having moved to Paris at the age of 17, Vallotton married the daughter of the most influential French art dealer, Alexandre Bernheim. Gabrielle was a young widow with three children. Vallotton’s relations with them were far from good, and besides, the artist was burdened with wealth and the need to lead the secular life of the head of the respected family; however, Vallotton did not experience a lack of exhibitions ever since. He was one of the best masters of the woodcut in the late XIX century. Albums with his engravings were published in large editions, his works were printed in newspapers and magazines - he was known by many.
Vallotton’s painting Port demonstrates that the artist transferred his best engraver qualities to painting. This picture won’t lose much if you change the image into black and white: here the composition is more important, and the color is used in large local spots.

Vallotton produced many very bright pictures (1, 2, 3, 4), for which Gertrude Stein even scornfully called him "a Manet for the impecunious", but even in those pictures, it is still noticeable that the artist prefers the line to the color. "I think that what is characteristic of my art is a desire for expression through form, silhouette, line and volume; color is an additive, designed to emphasize what is important, while remaining subsidiary. I am not in any way an Impressionist, and while I much admire their art, I pride myself on having resisted its strong influence," said the artist.
Most likely, Port, like the majority of Vallotton’s landscapes, is partly fictional. But if the old masters composed their landscapes in studio on the principle of the baroque still life (collecting the most beautiful things in one canvas), Vallotton walked along the simplification path, clearing the results of his observations of nature from small details, and revealing the beauty of lines and large shapes.

Vallotton also differed from his contemporary landscape painters. Take for example two seascapes from the collection of the Pushkin Museum. Monet’s Cliffs at Etretat is the result of an extreme plein air painting: to get the exact shades, the artist got soaked in the rain, was freezing in the wind and nearly crashed among the rocks. André Derain painted The Drying Sails under the burning midday sun. In their place, Vallotton would rather look out the window or, perhaps, take a look at the photo. Sometimes the artist painted from photographs, but back then it was not yet accepted to advertise the use of advanced technologies in the works and the leak of information almost cost him his reputation. And then Vallotton would use his imagination and the firm hand of the engraver.

Author: Natalia Kandaurova
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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Landscape

Style of art: Post-Impressionism

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1901

Size: 57×62 cm

Artwork in selections: 10 selections

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