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12.1.04

Vuillard Painting Will Return to France

A reader remarked that there should be some sort of notice at the top of each post about who is writing. To that end, posts from guest contributors will now have their names displayed in the title bar. If there is no name there, you can assume that it's my post.

Édouard Vuillard, Le Salon de Madame Aron, 1904, Private collectionA short article (Le Canada va restituer à la France un Vuillard volé par les nazis [Canada will return to France a Vuillard stolen by the Nazis], January 10) in L'Express announced that the National Gallery of Canada will send one of its paintings back to France. The museum's own investigation showed that Vuillard's Le Salon de Madame Aron, from 1904, was hidden in a bank vault during the Second World War, looted by the German occupiers of France, and eventually sold by a Parisian gallery to the museum in 1956. The canvas will be reclaimed by descendants of the wartime owners, Alfred Lindon and his son Jacques.

A related painting is Denise Natanson and Marcelle Aron in the Summer House at Villerville, Normandy, from around 1910, now in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. Some of the photographs in the Vuillard exhibit last year at the National Gallery included Marcelle Aron, at the Château-Rouge in Amfreville. This show, now called Vuillard: From Post-Impressionist to Modern Master, will be at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, from January 31 to April 18. Martin Gayford has already a published a preview of the British exhibit, focusing on the photographs: Kodak fragments of an artist's life, January 10, in The Telegraph. Gayford also made the connection that came to mind when I was looking at the Vuillard that is being returned to France, that Vuillard's work can be considered in many ways the visual counterpart to Proust's novel À la recherche du temps perdu. However, I haven't had any luck in discovering who Madame Aron or any of the figures in the painting are, so I can't really make a comparison with any of the characters in the novel. Still, Vuillard images like this one will be in my mind as I read the book now.

Of course, it is admirable to right a historical wrong by returning a painting that never should have been taken. However, it also does not make me happy to think about a painting leaving a public museum to return to a private collection. Take your last look.

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