For years, Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940) carried around a full-sized plaster torso of the Venus de Milo. Perched on the mantelpieces of numerous Paris apartments, growing more dingy and chipped with each removal, she loomed over the rooms, her face impassive and slightly scornful. This odd totem forms the centerpiece of Venus Betrayed, Julia Frey’s thematic biography of the French painter, printmaker, and decorative artist.

As the book’s subtitle suggests, Frey aims to immerse the reader in Vuillard’s life using his own journals and photographs (he was a lifelong diarist and keen photographer), ample family remembrances, and contemporary scholarship. She relies heavily on the splendid catalogue by Guy Cogeval from the 2003–04 retrospective that was seen at the National Gallery of Art, Washington,...


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