Édouard Vuillard - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips
  • Édouard Vuillard’s Le Cantique des cantiques, 1891, represents the zenith of Synthetism: the short-lived movement emphasizing flat patterns and broad swaths of pure color championed by Paul Ranson, who was the first owner of the present work. A veritable and relatively unknown Nabis masterpiece, this enigmatic picture is a possible mate to another work in the Triton Collection, Maurice Denis’ La Vendange mystique, 1890. Both paintings were owned by Paul Ranson—they were in his studio at the same time—and they are of near-identical size. Antoine Salomon and Guy Cogeval, the authors of Vuillard’s catalogue raisonné, suggest that the pair “were either meant to form a diptych inspired by the same literary motif, or were painted for a decorative ensemble to which other Nabi artists may have contributed. Perhaps we should consider the possibility that these two works, steeped in Symbolism, hung on the walls of Paul Ranson’s studio, the ‘temple’ of Nabi art? Denis naturally explored the mystical and the redemptive aspects of The Song of Songs, whilst Vuillard, drawing inspiration from the sensuality of the Biblical verses, sought to create a veritable choreography of rapture.”i


    Paul Ranson, Nabis landscape, 1890. Private Collection. Image: Luisa Ricciarini / Bridgeman Images

    Indeed, Le Cantique des cantiques presents a celebratory scene of sinuous curves and dappled color. Vuillard’s foreground figures twist together, flitting and flirting through the flowering shrubbery, which transforms into pure pattern in the background. With a focus on two dimensionality, the Synthesists were highly influenced by the Japanese ukiyo-e prints which permeated Parisian popular culture as early as the 1870s. Meaning “floating world,” ukiyo-e artists studied and often celebrated the ephemerality of life. Vuillard himself had a collection of about 180 of these woodblock prints, even painting them into some of his compositions. Compositionally, ukiyo-e prints do not convey pictorial depth, but rather, rely on the simplicity of form and color to create an emotional connection with the viewer and narrate a complex story. Vuillard draws on both the formal aspects of ukiyo-e in his use of pattern and flatness in Le Cantique des cantiques, and the spirit of the movement through the charm of his quotidian scene, which allows the viewer to weave their own narrative through the composition.


    Katsukawa Shunsho, Women in a garden from a series, mid-late 18th century. Freer Study Collection, The National Museum of Asian Art, Washington, D.C. Image: Freer Study Collection

    Vuillard joined the Nabis in 1890, and by 1891, he was ensconced in the mystical society of artists. While interested in mysticism and the occult, the Nabis ultimately sought to break down the barriers between art and life, creating both individual artworks and full-blown sensory experiences. One such experience was a collaborative night of theater on December 11, 1891, which featured excerpts from the Canticle of Canticles. Nabis artists, including Vuillard, Denis, Ranson, and Paul Sérusier, contributed drawings and set designs to the evening, while poets and playwrights performed their work. While Le Cantique des cantiques was not a set design itself, the painting is presumably an extension of Vuillard’s set design process, perhaps akin to a maquette.


    Paul Sérusier, Portrait of Paul Ranson Dressed as a Prophet, 1890. Private Collection. Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY 

    The text of the Canticle of Canticles, also called the Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon, is a celebration of natural female beauty, which Vuillard captures in the women communing in the garden in the present work. The ancient poem is traditionally read during Passover, and while Vuillard himself was not Jewish, some of the most important people in is life were, including his dealer Jos Hessell, and his patrons Henri Bernstein and Thadée Natanson; the word “Nabis” itself, too, is a Hebrew term. Through Le Cantique des cantiques, we see how Vuillard’s curiosity and embrace of different cultures, including Japanese motifs and Jewish texts, pushed his output in one of the earliest examples of a truly contemporary art practice.



    i Antoine Salomon and Guy Cogeval, Vuillard: The Inexhaustible Glance, Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, exh. cat., vol. 1, Skira, Wildenstein Institute, 2003, p. 186.

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice https://www.phillips.com/auctions/auction/NY011123

    • Provenance

      Paul Ranson, Paris
      M. Michel Ranson, Paris (by descent from the above by 1964)
      Collection Salomon, Paris
      Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris (acquired from the above)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998

    • Exhibited

      Mannheim, Kunsthalle, Die Nabis und ihre Freunde, October 23, 1963–January 6, 1964, no. 173, n.p. (illustrated; titled Frauen im Garten)
      Florence, Palazzo Corsini, Il Tempo dei Nabis, March 28–June 28, 1998, no. 29, pp. 68-69, 184 (illustrated, p. 69; titled Ragazze in un giardino); then travelled as The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, The Time of the Nabis, August 20–November 22, 1998, no. 172, pp. 33, 118-119 (illustrated, pp. 33, 118; titled Women in a Garden)
      Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais; London, Royal Academy of Arts, Vuillard, January 19, 2003–April 18, 2004, no. 58, pp. 91, 113-115 (illustrated, p. 114; detail illustrated, p. 91)
      Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Gauguin y los orígenes del simbolismo, September 28, 2004–January 9, 2005, no. 117, pp. 240, 327 (illustrated, p. 240)
      Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Around Gauguin: Post-Impressionist works from the Triton Foundation, April 8–June 12, 2005
      The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Klaroenstoot voor de moderne kunst. De Nabis in de collectie van de Triton Foundation, April 29-November 30, 2008, pp. 12, 24-25 (illustrated, p. 25)
      Marseille, Musée Cantini (no. 196, pp. 321-322, 331; illustrated, p. 331; detail illustrated, pp. 321-322); Rovereto, Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (no. 196, pp. 328-329, 349); Toronto, Musée des beaux-arts de l’Ontario, de la Scène au Tableau, October 6, 2009–September 26, 2010
      Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Impressionist Gardens, November 16–February 14, 2011
      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant gardes, 1870 to the present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7–2012 January 20, 2013, pp. 15, 160-161, 567 (illustrated, pp. 15, 161)
      The Cleveland Museum of Art; London, Royal Academy of Arts, Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, October 11, 2015–April 20, 2016, no. 71, pp. 169, 184 (illustrated, p. 184)
      Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum (on long term loan, November 2019–November 2022)

    • Literature

      George L. Mauner, The Nabis, Their History and Their Art, 1888-1896, New York and London, 1978, no. 172, fig. 59, p. 212 (illustrated, n.p.; titled Femme au jardin)
      Guy Cogeval, Vuillard. Post-Impressionist Master, New York, 2002, pp. 32-33 (illustrated, p. 32)
      Antoine Salomon and Guy Cogeval, Vuillard: The Inexhaustible Glance, Critical Catalogue of Paintings and Pastels, Milan, 2003, no. III-31, vol. I, pp. 185-187 (illustrated, p. 185)



Le Cantique des cantiques

stamped "E. Vuillard" lower right
oil on canvas
29 1/8 x 19 5/8 in. (74 x 50 cm)
Painted in 1891.

Full Cataloguing

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,512,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1206

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I

New York Auction 14 November 2023