Masterpiece Stories

Painting of the Week: Félix Vallotton, The Lie

Zuzanna Stańska 25 November 2017 min Read

Today’s painting, created by Felix Vallotton (one of my favorite artists), was painted in 1897 – but it could just as easily be a scene staged today. A man and woman, intimately entwined on a sofa. I love imagining what Vallotton’s intent was with the figures in this image, especially given the title of Le Mensonge (The Lie).

Felix Vallotton, The Lie, 1898, Felix Vallotton The Lie Baltimore Museum of Art
Felix Vallotton, The Lie, 1898, Baltimore Museum of Art

It’s easy to assume the woman is lying – the man appears to be listening while she whispers something in his ear. But perhaps he is the one deceiving her as he glances away – maybe she is whispering words of trust and love, and he is thinking of his own deceit. Let’s think a little. What is the lie about? Is one of them cheating?

Felix Vallotton The Lie Felix Vallotton, The Lie, 1898, MoMA
Felix Vallotton, The Lie, 1898, MoMA. Vallotton created also this woodcut showing the same scene.

Some speculate the woman is pregnant. Is he the father? I love the way these figures are wrapped up around each other; how their bodies were human, but also liquid. They melt into each other and the room. There is also that very impactful shade of red. Vallotton brings the woman to the forefront with her red dress; but the table and the chair in the background are red, too. The woman not only melts into her lover, but the furniture. It’s as though she could be dusted off, folded up, and put away just like the tablecloth.

What do you see? How do you interpret this image?

Find out more:

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