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Cover for Venus Betrayed

Venus Betrayed

The Private World of Edouard Vuillard

Julia Frey


List Price: 55.00*
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"Marvelous, beautifully illustrated."—Wall Street Journal

Édouard Vuillard was so secretive that he berated himself for betraying his emotions in conversation. He was a reticent, impassioned man, at once a timid stalker and a social climbing anarchist, caught in conflicting desires. From the 1880s until the advent of World War II, using styles from academic to pointillist to Nabi to Fauve, Vuillard’s abundant paintings revealed his turmoil of love and hatred: models pose beside a plaster torso cast from the Venus of Milo, women appear without faces, anxiety radiates from many masterpieces—while other works were left unfinished for months or years.

Drawing on insights and images from Vuillard’s still unpublished diaries, Julia Frey takes us into Vuillard’s private world of cabarets, experimental theaters, holiday resorts, and intimate boudoirs, showing how his art reflects his fraught personal relations and his artistic struggles. Frey highlights many of his finest works, from his famous intimate interior scenes to book illustrations and poster designs, and she examines his complex relationships with iconic friends like Pierre Bonnard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Felix Vallotton, as well as with the women he loved—his mother and sister, penniless models, and rich men’s wives.

Praise For Venus Betrayed: The Private World of Edouard Vuillard

"How does one wring dramatic interest and sustained insight from the cloistered routines of an artist who lived with his mother; never married; seldom traveled; and, with the exception of his youthful Nabism, recoiled from the dominant movements of the day? Julia Frey, an emeritus professor of French and art history at the University of Colorado, has done so in her marvelous, beautifully illustrated Venus Betrayed: The Private World of Édouard Vuillard . . . As the saying goes in fiction, artist monographs are best when the author shows rather than tells. Venus Betrayed balances and melds the biographical with the visual without forcing connections or overplaying symbols.”
— Maxwell Carter

"Frey has mined the rich resource of Edouard Vuillard's unpublished journals to construct a new interpretation of the artist, and of the multiple contradictions that surround him and his work. . . . Frey's original study of Vuillard reveals a far more complex and multifaceted artist than has hitherto been thought."
— Art Newspaper

"Venus Betrayed is lively and well crafted, a distillation of exhaustive looking and careful thought. Building imaginatively upon the foundations of recent scholarship—the 2003 catalogue raisonné and a trio of French studies analyzing Vuillard’s journal—it deserves to be widely read. A thought-provoking addition to the study of an extremely complex individual, Frey’s book affirms the value of exploring the relationship between an artist’s private life and creativity."
— Burlington Magazine

"Venus Betrayed is not strictly a biography but a thematic study of the artist’s work from a biographical standpoint. What we get is a kind of biography-in-disguise, in which the events of Vuillard’s life are not presented chronologically but in relation to friends and family, and to recurrent motifs and obsessions. . . . The thematic approach means that chapters overlap, with certain events or anecdotes recurring like motifs in a piece of music. Each recurrence adds emphasis and reveals more of Vuillard’s complexities. It adds up to an unusually searching examination of an artist based on the evidence of his works and his private journals. It’s a portrait of a double life."
— John McDonald

"Lavish and expansive. . . . Frey’s book is ambitious, drawing our attention to just how modern Vuillard was with his feckless navigations of an increasingly unconventional world, his artistic response to new ideas regarding consciousness and the self, and his expressive use of the new medium of photography."
— New Criterion

"I don’t think there could be a better newish art book to obsess over during the pandemic home confinement period than Frey’s Venus Betrayed: The Private World of Édouard Vuillard: a thematic biography of French painter Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940) chocked full of large color reproductions. . . Now that abstraction has become a form of passive pastoralism, Vuillard should have an energetic historical reality in the minds of those who value the thought of a post-pandemic culture. I think that Venus Betrayed will softly touch people who are in tune with this mode of silky associative thinking. Those that yearn to be released from the corset of mental restrictions."
— Joseph Nechvatal

"Frey has not just written a simple biography of the artist but rather a full analysis of his life and work. . . . It is very well illustrated. . . . Essential if you want to learn more about the artist but it is also a great read for anyone interested in the arts."
— Connexion

"'One of the best-selling portrait painters of his time,' art historian Frey writes, the French artist Vuillard (1868–1940) was 'a secretive man, careful to safeguard his privacy.' But his art is 'primarily autobiographical,' and Frey has used it, along with Vuillard’s journal, photographs, letters, and notes from contemporaries, to explore his life. Vuillard’s creativity constantly 'pulled him in opposing directions,' she writes, but it resulted in 'a sort of magic common to all brilliant creators.'"
— Yale Alumni Magazine

“Frey’s biographical account offers a new and intimate look at Vuillard—an artist whose work is central to the history of modern art. Centered on the private life that so characteristically defined Vuillard’s painting, the book is engaging and personal, appealing to readers who are both new to and familiar with its subject.”
— Britany Salsbury, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings, Cleveland Museum of Art

“The title of Frey’s Venus Betrayed hints at the provocative reassessment of an artist best remembered for his small scenes of intimate domestic life, and as a bachelor who lived with his mother all her life. ‘Saint’ Vuillard is now seen as much a sinner and indeed haunted individual. Densely illustrated with Vuillard’s personal jottings and sketches to full blown paintings, this is a breakthrough in artist biography, offering bold and fascinating interpretations of recurring motifs, gestures and other symbols for Vuillard’s ongoing passions and emotional conflicts, to bolster exciting new readings of the artist and the women in his life.”
— Gloria Groom, Chair of European Painting and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago

“Frey’s provocative portrait of Edouard Vuillard captures the paradoxical nature of the man and his oeuvre. Drawing on biographical, artistic, and photographic records, Frey refracts Vuillard’s work through multiple perspectives in seventeen intriguing essays that reveal the richness and complexity of his life and art. This profusely illustrated volume offers original perspectives that challenge the reader to see Vuillard’s work afresh.”
— Mary Weaver Chapin, Curator of Prints and Drawings, Portland Art Museum

Reaktion Books, 9781789141603, 424pp.

Publication Date: December 15, 2019

About the Author

Julia Frey is professor emeritus of French and art history at the University of Colorado and the author of Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life and Balcony View: A 9/11 Diary. She lives in France.