Separate and Unequal

When leafing through Felix Vallotton’s paintings, it is noticeable that he enjoyed painting group scenes. There is a group of men playing poker in The Poker Game, a group of men talking in The Five Painters, a group of men drinking in The Bistro, and a group of women bathing in The Turkish Bath and in Summer.  He frequently portrayed groups of people socializing, but rarely do the genders mix. Men and women only come together if there is underlying sexual tension like in The Visit or The Red Room. Aside from that, it seems that in Vallotton’s world, men and women reside in separate spheres.

Of course, some of the segregation stems from social conventions of the period. During Vallotton’s time, it would have been highly inappropriate for a classy dame to play a round of poker or drink with the boys at the local tavern. But the segregation found in his paintings could also indicate Vallotton’s intimate thoughts on men and women.

The men can always be found in male-dominated spaces such as bars or studies, donning expensive tuxedos and perfectly manicured moustaches.

The Toast by Felix Vallotton, 1902 Oil on cardboard, 49 x 68 cm Private collection, Paris

The Toast by Felix Vallotton, 1902
Oil on cardboard, 49 x 68 cm
Private collection, Paris

The women, on the other hand, are set against natural backgrounds, usually lounging about sans clothing.

Summer by Felix Vallotton, 1912 Oil on canvas, 201 x 205.5 cm Musee cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne

Summer by Felix Vallotton, 1912
Oil on canvas, 201 x 205.5 cm
Musee cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne

As a man, Vallotton could observe and participate in the male sphere, so he could accurately represent it. But I assume he had little access to the true reality of women, so instead he painted his secret desires and impressions.

Men playing poker?Realistic.

Women playing checkers in the nude? Unrealistic (and strange)

Nude Women Playing Checkers by Felix Vallotton, 1897 Oil on pavatex, 25.5 x 52.5 cm Musee d’Art et d'Histoire, Geneva

Nude Women Playing Checkers by Felix Vallotton, 1897
Oil on pavatex, 25.5 x 52.5 cm
Musee d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva

I can only wonder why Vallotton assumed women did daily tasks in the nude. Women do enjoy clothing as much as men, if not more.

To see more of Vallotton’s creative undertakings, check out the exhibition entitled Felix Vallotton: Fire and Ice at the Grand Palais National Galleries running until January 20, 2014. But if you can’t make it to France, you can admire his work from home – check out Natalia Brodskaia’s latest book Felix Vallotton (available in print and ebook formats).

www.felix-vallotton.com/

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