Surprise at Vuillard’s

Surprise at Vuillard’s, Acrylic on canvas, 24” x 48”, 2019

“Moments before the painter Vuillard let his presence be known in the home, a brightly wrapped present was delivered by a man and placed at the feet of Vuillard’s sister and mother.”  

From the Private Diary of Noyes Capehart

I have been painting pictures for over sixty years. Like some artists, I have been and continue to be excited and influenced by the creative works of other artists. During my three years in New York City following my graduation from college in 1958, I worked as a guard and night watchman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During that time in my young life, I saw the paintings of the French painter, Edouard Vuillard, for the first time. The impact of his rich compositions was immediate and has been long-lasting.

In 1972, not long after I came to Appalachian State University’s Art Department as a faculty member, I executed a small watercolor called Danger at Vuillard’s. My picture was strongly based on Vuillard’s 1893 Interior, Mother and Sister of the Artist, a work currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Interior, Mother and Sister of the Artist , 1893,   Oil on canvas    
Danger at Vuillard’s, 1972, Watercolor , Noyes Capehart

For the past year and a half, I have been producing paintings for my scheduled August 20 – September 7, 2019 exhibition at the Art Cellar Gallery in Banner Elk, North Carolina, Surprise at Vuillard’s will be one of approximately twenty featured works. The reception is scheduled for Sunday, August 24 from 4-6pm, and the public is invited.

In Surprise at Vuillard’s, I made use of a compositional device first employed by the Italian artist Masaccio in his 1425 fresco of The Tribute Money in the Brancacci Chapel at the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, Italy. Put simply, Masaccio’s compositional uniqueness came from the three changes he showed in time and space: (1) Jesus is seen in the center of the picture pointing to a nearby lake. He directs Peter to go there and from the mouth of a fish remove several gold coins to give to the tax collector. At the left (2), we see Peter crouching at water’s edge to retrieve the coins, and then at the extreme right side of the composition (3) we see Peter handing the coins to the tax collector.

The Tribute Money, 1425   (fresco)   Masaccio

In my acrylic painting, I have tried to suggest three changes in time and space by (1) showing Vuillard peering around a distant corner of the room, waiting to make his appearance known, (2) depicting a man about to enter through on open doorway carrying the gift, and (3) choosing to emphasize the moment when the two women are seen looking at and responding to the brightly wrapped present. In this instance, my respect for and appreciation of art history played a significant role in my decisions as a picture-maker.

I will confess this much about Surprise at Vuillard’s: the decision to structure this work on three time/space changes was not a predetermined one. As the image below of an earlier photographed stage of Surprise will show, there is a priest standing in an open doorway and there is no suggestion of Vuillard. (This image of the priest had earlier appeared in a 2008 painting titled The Vicar’s Dilemma, a work sold at my 2017 show at the Art Cellar Gallery.)

Surprise at Vuillard’s (earlier state)
The Vicar’s Dilemma , 2008, Acrylic

As it sometimes happens with my approach to painting and writing, serendipity often steps in and suggests changes with my initial thinking. It was only when I altered the image of the priest to that of a man carrying the gift that I realized the potential for affecting two changes in time and space. The real “Ah-ha!” moment came when I realized three time/space changes could be implemented if I attached a 12” x 24” canvas to the left edge of the 24” x 36” canvas in order to be able to incorporate the suggestion of Vuillard. (If one looks closely at the lower part of the composition where sizes of tiles change, one can see the vertical seam created by the addition of the second canvas.)     

The excitement that came with the developments of Surprise at Vuillard’s always makes me eager to start painting the next picture or writing the next story. In my world, predetermined routine is not in my dictionary!  


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