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mheu, Historical Museum of the Urban Environment


Verdun - Félix Vallotton

146cm x 114cm
oil on canvas
Paris - Musée de l'Armée
© Paris - Musée de l'Armée, Dist. RMN / Pascal Segrette

View this work in the exhibition Fire

The work

In 1916, the French government dispatched "art delegations to the armies," asking painters who participated to paint at least one picture about the war, to compile a collection of art on the conflict under way. Vallotton volunteered in June 1917 and visited the front lines and trenches of the eastern front.

On his return to Paris, he produced a series of 14 canvases. This one, christened "Verdun," refers to the place that has come to symbolize World War I, where more than 600,000 soldiers from both sides perished in 1916. Deciding against painting the destructive "forces" themselves, Vallotton opted instead to depict their physical effects. The painting, like all the works produced by the artists dispatched, was exhibited in 1917 at Musée du Luxembourg in Paris.

The artist

The painter and writer Félix Valloton was born in Switzerland in 1865. Drawn to painting, he left for Paris to take classes at the fine art school Académie Julian, where he came into contact with a number of avant-garde, post-impressionist and Nabi artists. There his talents as an illustrator and wood engraver, a technique enjoying a revival at the time, were quickly recognized. Very gifted, he went on to enroll in the Paris School of Fine Arts.

His constantly evolving work, which progressed from the Nabis style to realism and later symbolism, quickly earned him international success and the admiration of his contemporaries. His pictures were exhibited in his lifetime all across Europe, from Paris to Prague and Stockholm. Félix Vallotton died in Paris in 1925.