Vallotton was a Franco-Swiss post-impressionist painter, associated with
the Nabis movement, as well as an engraver, illustrator, and writer.
Felix Vallotton was an important figure in the development of the modern
woodcut. Félix Vallotton was born on December 28, 1865, in Lausanne,
Switzerland, into a well-to-do middle-class family. He attended Collège
Cantonal in Lausanne, graduating with a degree in classical studies in
1882. After graduation Vallotton moved to Paris to study art under Jules
Joseph Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger at the Académie Julian.
Felix Vallotton spent many hours in the Louvre, where he greatly admired the works of Holbein, Dürer and Ingres. These artists would make a lasting impression on Vallotton throughout his life. Felix Vallotton began his artistic career by painting portraits. His earliest paintings, such as the Ingresque Portrait of Monsieur Ursenbach (1885), are firmly rooted in the academic tradition, and his self portrait of 1885 received an honorable mention at the Salon des artistes Français in 1886. Felix Vallotton then turned to interior scenes. It was during this period that Vallotton developed his own manner of painting.
Felix Vallotton worked with small, precise strokes, carefully rendering every detail and creating a smooth canvas surface. He is regarded as one of the precursors of the so-called Neue Sachlichkeit ("new objectivity") movement, which originated in the 1920s. During the following decade Vallotton painted, wrote art criticism and made a number of prints. In 1891 Felix Vallotton executed his first woodcut, a portrait of Paul Verlaine.
Woodcut, formally known as Xylography, is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges. The areas to show 'white' are cut away with a knife or chisel, leaving the characters or image to show in 'black' at the original surface level. The block is cut along the grain of the wood (unlike wood engraving where the block is cut in the end-grain). In Europe Beachwood was most commonly used and in Japan, a special type of cherry wood was used. The surface is covered with ink by rolling over the surface with an ink-covered roller, leaving ink upon the flat surface but not in the non-printing areas.
Felix Vallotton's woodcuts were featured in many magazines, including the Revue Blanche, Le Rire and L'Assiette au Beurre,. Felix Vallotton also designed posters and both were recognized as radically innovative in printmaking. They established Vallotton as a leader in the revival of true woodcut as an artistic medium. In the western world, the relief print, in the form of commercial wood engraving, had long been mainly utilized unimaginatively as a medium for the reproduction of drawn or painted images and, latterly, photographs. Vallotton's starkly reductive woodcut style features large masses of undifferentiated black and areas of unmodulated white. While emphasizing outline and flat patterns, Vallotton generally made no use of the gradations and modeling traditionally produced by hatching. The influences of post-Impressionism, symbolism and the Japanese woodcut are apparent in Vallotton's work.
Félix Vallotton pays homage to the quest for the exotic that was prevalent in the late 19th century in the woodcut La Paresse (Laziness). The cat in this woodcut, created in 1896 (shown above) is an important compositional element, completing the strong white diagonal that begins in the bent arm of his human and adding energy to the languor of the subject matter. By 1892 Felix Vallotton was affiliated with Les Nabis, a group of young artists that included Pierre Bonnard, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Maurice Denis, and Edouard Vuillard, with whom Vallotton was to form a lifelong friendship. During the 1890s, when Vallotton was closely allied with the avant-garde, his paintings reflected the style of his woodcuts, with flat areas of color, hard edges, and simplification of detail. His subjects included genre scenes, portraits and nudes.
One example of Felix Vallotton's Nabi style is the deliberately awkward Bathers on a Summer Evening (shown here) Painted in 1892-1893), it was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants, where it was unanimously attacked by conservative critics. In 1900 Vallotton was granted French citizenship and thanks to his marriage, in 1899, to a girl from the Bernheim family became a man of means. Felix Vallotton constantly exhibited at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery together with Bonnard, Vuillard and Rouseel. Vallotton's paintings of the post-Nabi period found admirers, and were generally respected for their truthfulness and their technical qualities, but the severity of his style was frequently criticized.
Vallotton responded in 1914 to the coming of the First World War by volunteering for the French army, but he was rejected because of his age. In 1915–16 Felix Vallotton returned to the medium of woodcut for the first time since 1901 to express his feelings for his adopted country in the series, "This is War", his last prints. Felix Vallotton subsequently spent three weeks on a tour of the Champagne front in 1917, on a commission from the Ministry of Fine Arts. The sketches he produced became the basis for a group of paintings, "The Church of Souain in Silhouette" among them, in which he recorded with cool detachment the ruined landscape.
Although a member of the llotton looked to the Cubo-Futurist movement for the resources to paint Verdun (shown here). On the subject of Verdun, he stated: "What can I depict out of all that? (...) Perhaps the theories of Cubism still in its infancy could be applied and give results? Drawing or painting 'forces' would be much more profoundly true than reproducing material effects, but such 'forces' are devoid of shape, still less color."
Following the principles of Cubo-Futurism, to which Vallotton here briefly subscribes, he uses colored triangles and cones for trajectories, and oblique lines for rain and dense smoke. Felix Vallotton keeps elements of a landscape, perspective, trees on slopes, but the centre of the painting is filled with a symbolic composition - the geometry of the antagonistic "forces". Apart from his work in the fields of painting, drawing and sculpture, Vallotton wrote three novels and a number of plays. His illustrated autobiographical novel La Vie Meurtrière (The Deadly Life) was published in 1930.