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Vallotton was born in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1865 and moved to Paris in 1992 to study art at the Académie Julian. By 1892, he was affiliated with Les Nabis (The Prophets), a group of young friends who were artists that included Pierre Bonnard, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Maurice Denis, and Edouard Vuillard (dissolved by 1900). During the 1890s, he was allied with the avant-garde. His paintings reflected the style of his woodcuts, with flat areas of color, hard edges, and simplified detail.
Felix Vallotton reinvented the woodcut in the decade from 1890-1900. His reductive approach to woodcuts was extremely modern and stark. Thematically, he explored politics, Parisian life and gender dynamics at the turn of the century (19th to 20th). In his own time, he was criticized for the severity of his woodcuts. Time proved him the correct one. His woodcuts are today universally acclaimed.
In 1900, his interest shifted back to painting. He was newly focused on the domestic scenes he discovered as a married man plus landscapes. His landscapes are universally acclaimed. His non-landscape paintings after 1900 sometimes depicted a bitter realism independent of the artistic mainstream.
Vallotton was a popular artist in his own time and was continually shown in the Paris Salons. Vallotton died of complications from cancer just one day after his 60th birthday in 1925. He had completed over 1700 paintings, 200 prints and also had written novels and plays. Some of his plays were performed.
Many experts believe that he remains undervalued in the present day. There was a major retrospective Vallotton show at the Grand Palais in France in 2013-2014. One aspect of his work which has continually undercut his reputation is that most of his nude paintings are deemed “dreadful” and complicate the task of exhibiting his work.
One is forced to include at least some of his nudes in any retrospective exhibit. His nudes were the most contentious pieces exhibited at the 2013-2014 show. Theories abound as to what was Vallotton’s purpose, if any, with these nudes. He left no answers.