Crimes and Punishments: Works by Felix Vallotton
Crimes and Punishments: Works by Félix Vallotton not only presents a remarkable series of lithographs by one of Switzerland’s most important early modern artists, but also serves as an exploration into one of the many corners of the Bechtler collection.
The exhibition, on view July 8 through September 5, 2011, features 23 lithographs Félix Vallotton created for a 1902 issue of the French satiric magazine L'Assiette au Beurre, which used full-page images rather than text as the main content. The issue was titled Crimes and Punishments (Crimes et Châtiments) and was almost solely dedicated to the works created by Vallotton.
Through these lithographs, Vallotton reveals anger over the abuses of power in France at the end of the 19th century. Whether it was the church or government or police, or whether it was men’s power over women or adults’ power over children, the series of images castigate in the most declarative way the misuse of power and its consequences. The works were intended to provoke anger in the magazine’s readership in the hopes that justice might be found.
Some of Vallotton’s images in the Crimes and Punishments series are disturbing and frank, but the stylized depiction of figures allows the viewer to engage the events represented without the shock that realism would have sparked. These are not realistic representations, but instead political cartooning at a high art level. There’s humor, too, as Vallotton makes fun of power in its many forms.
Vallotton’s modernism is represented in Crimes and Punishments through his simplification and abstraction of the human figure. The individuals are caricatures in which their most noteworthy aspects are distilled to their essentials so that the pieces have brevity which serves to augment the force of the effect.
Félix Vallotton (1865–1925) began as a portraitist then moved on to nudes, interiors and landscapes. During the 1890s he concentrated on wood engraving (primarily sardonic depictions of Parisian society) and was affiliated with Les Nabis, a group of Post-Impressionist French painters. As a graphic artist, Vallotton designed posters and provided illustrations for various books and magazines including La Revue Blanche.
Félix Vallotton, Self-portrait, 1897, Musée d'Orsay, Paris ©RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski