Invisible visitors

Could Félix Vallotton paint? The question is worth asking, because a viewer who decided to close the open door in "The Visit" would find it extremely difficult to do so!

Swiss artist Félix Vallotton had been living in Paris for five years when he painted this work. He took classes at the Académie Julian and was a frequent visitor to the Louvre, where he copied Dürer and Holbein, painting only portraits in these early years. "The Visit" is an enigmatic scene whose title gives the viewer precious little information. Ironically, this interior scene is characterised by its anonymity - and if there is indeed a visit, its motive remains mysterious. In which room are the scene’s protagonists? How did the visitor get in - through the half-open door or through the front of the room? The painting gives us no clues as to the meaning of the composition. This work in praise of the trivial and the anonymous nevertheless holds the viewer’s attention - and when studied attentively, it seems to have been very clumsily painted.

Yet the work was meticulously constructed by an artist who was soon to be dubbed the "foreign Nabi". With this painting, Vallotton put all his skill into demonstrating the suggestive possibilities of spatial construction. By analysing the composition, the eye gradually reaches the true subject of the painting.

Let’s take the winding paths that Vallotton prepared for us.