Musée d'Orsay: Edouard Vuillard Sorrowful Figure

Edouard Vuillard
Sorrowful Figure

Sorrowful Figure
Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
Sorrowful Figure
Pastel, charcoal lines on buff grey paper
H. 40; W. 17 cm
© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Figure de douleur [Sorrowful Figure]

It is very tempting, on the face of it, to see in this despondent figure an illustration relating to Pierre Quillard's play, The Girl with the Severed Hands that opened in May 1891 at Paul Fort's Théâtre d'Art. The stricken pose, the hidden face and the red hands bring to mind the young girl submitting to the "brutal, incestuous caresses" of her father. But according to Guy Cogeval, "it is unthinkable that Vuillard would have depicted so literally a scene from a play, even more so because at no time in Pierre Quillard's play does the young girl appear naked", and would have depicted a sorrowful figure detached from all literary allusion.
Whatever the case, this image evokes an atmosphere of disturbing strangeness. Far from being a simple nude figure, this elusive creature seems to carry the weight of a curse on her shoulders. Nothing is more dramatic than the contrast between this prostrate figure clearly trying to protect herself from prying eyes, and the highlighting effect of the strident, almost aggressive colours (blue, green and red).
The vertical framing, very constrained and Japanese in style, increases our unease by putting us, in spite of ourselves, in the position of a voyeur.

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