Félix Vallotton, The Church of Souain, Silhouetted (L'église de Souain en silhouette)

National Gallery of Art, Washington

Date: 1917
Technique: Oil on canvas, 97 x 130 cm

Vallotton pushed his own experiment to the limit. Using sketches drawn in Champagne, with characteristic attention to detail, he painted a landscape of ruins in gentle graduations of late afternoon light. The light slides over crumbled walls and the ribs of a vault indicating that a church once stood here. Flowers have blossomed among the rubble and the overturned tiles, whilst the trees stand straight against the clear sky in the background. The colours are in perfect harmony, the style is delicately Japanese and the composition highlighted with alternating bands of colour. None of this corresponds to the subject. Vallotton is aware of this and plays on this contradiction as far as he can so as to expose the destruction of man by man in all its absurdity while unchanging nature carries on undisturbed. During the time spent in the Champagne and Argonne regions and on his return to Paris, Vallotton repeatedly sought to exploit this sharp contrast to draw out its expressive potential. He remained unconvinced by the result, and later experimented with Cubo-Futurism in Verdun.


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