Maman is my Muse: The Maternal as Motif and Metaphor in Edouard Vuillard's Intimisme

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Abstract

Few painterly practices have more consistently featured the artist's mother as a motif than that of the Nabis and Intimiste artist Edouard Vuillard, which may explain his citation of her as his muse. This article concerns Vuillard's 1890s images of everyday domesticity that subsume the figure and identity of Madame Vuillard into a generically maternal role. I offer the first critical, particularly feminist, engagement with these images as a distinct representational category that I have labelled the 'maman-motif'. Close visual analysis of these images reveals the repeated deployment of key representational tropes in relation to the maternal figure. These include an implied viewing position imagined as child-like and the physiognomic and metaphorical dissolution of the maternal body into the material culture of domesticity. These tropes are more productive of filial nostalgia for the maternal than the subjectivity of a mature woman in her fifties. In contrast to the conventionally narrow art-historical interpretation of these images, it is my contention that their artistic, ideological, and discursive significance can only be realised in relation to the wider contemporary culture of filial dialogues.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-77
Number of pages23
JournalOxford Art Journal
Volume34
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2011