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Daily Art Moment: Félix Vallotton

In 1896–97, Félix Vallotton captured the private joy and solace of music played only for oneself. In Musical Instruments,” a suite of six woodblock prints, he used the sparest means to depict solitary musicians in comfortable, domestic settings. The Portland Art Museum recently acquired two prints from this series: one depicting a cellist in his parlor and another of a guitarist nearly hidden among ferns in a sunroom.

Although the sitters are known (the cellist has been identified as Belgian performer Joseph Holmann; the guitarist as Louis Schopfer), the prints are not meant as portraits. The emphasis is on the reverie of the musician, rather than his individuality. Vallotton’s technique called on the artist to move from dark to light, making slim cuts in the woodblock matrix to distinguish the arc of a fern frond, the strings of the instrument, or the expressive hands of the musicians. The prints are as elegant, we presume, as the music produced.

Mary Weaver Chapin, Curator of Prints and Drawings

Le Violoncelle (The Cello), Felix Vallotton, 8 13/16 x 7 inches, woodcut on paper. A vertical, rectangular print rendered in black on cream paper depicting a man playing a cello in the corner of a room. Most of this print is black with the man’s face, hands, details of his coat, cello, a portion of a wall and the contents of the room in cream. The man sits at center, drawing a bow across the cello in front of a chest of drawers near a corner of the room. His hair, coat and cello are black with delicate lines in cream showing details of the cello and man. Behind him are a chest of drawers, again in black with cream lines showing the chest’s detail and handles. A small round clock sits on the chest. The corner wall behind the man is divided into a lower half in black and the upper half in cream. Much of the print is black with the black letters “FV” in a cream box at the lower left corner and “Le Violoncelle” at lower right, also in black letters on cream.

Félix Vallotton (Swiss, active France, 1865–1925). La Guitare (The Guitar), 1897, and Le Violoncelle (The Cello), 1896, from the series Instruments de Musique (Musical Instruments). Woodcuts on wove paper. Museum Purchase: Portland Fine Print Fair Fund, 2018.62.1; Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Amanda Snyder Purchase Fund and Ann Flowerree, 2020.21.1