Félix Vallotton – The Lie (1897)

Sometimes a painting’s title is a spark of genius, an integral part of the work itself. The artist may use it to shine a light on the meaning of their piece, throwing us a lifeline without which we may have remained ignorant of the art’s full significance.

Without its title, The Lie would look like the romantic rendezvous of two lovers, melting in an embrace in a late 19th century interior. There is a lot of passion implied, almost suffocating with all the red and crimson hues. The woman’s red dress and shoes match the red tablecloth and the armchair, as well as her blush. Her auburn hair mirrors the crimson of the sofa and the flowers in the vase. She blends in perfectly with the decor, all fiery and passionate, the curves of her body suggesting that she’s both voluptuous and, at the same time, pregnant. The pair could very well be happily married.

Félix Vallotton - The lie
Félix Vallotton – The Lie (1897), oil on canvas

The title, however, wants us to know more. There is a lie being told. As the woman is leaning her head back, on her lover’s shoulder, her face flushed and covered in shadows, we might easily jump to the conclusion that she’s lying to him about her pregnancy, perhaps telling him he’s the father. But could it be that simple? The man could also be the liar, promising his lover that he would marry her and start a family with her. He’s smiling ambiguously, either out of complacency, contentment or deceit. The rosiness of his right cheek is most likely the lipstick mark of his lover, yet another indication of their fiery relationship.

Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but the pointy pillows on the extremities of the sofa make me think of horns. In all Latin rooted languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian) and possibly other languages as well, the expression “to put horns on someone” means to cheat on them with another partner, while the phrase “to have horns” implies one is being cuckolded. I am thus more inclined to believe that the lie is coming from the woman’s lips, which might be telling her lover that he’s the father of her baby.

The Lie was initially a woodcut, part of a series by Swiss-born French artist Félix Vallotton titled Intimacies (Intimités), which depicted couples in scenes from everyday life.

8 thoughts on “Félix Vallotton – The Lie (1897)

  1. Once you pointed out the horns of the pillows, the whole thing took on a very menacing, hellish tone. The yellow and red wallpaper also reminds me of flames. Their passion seems destructive, to one of them at least.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aha! So I’m not the only one seeing horns now. It’s interesting you find the wallpaper menacing. I think the yellow and pink hues are quite harmless, but oddly intriguing. My guess is that the wallpaper reflected the fashion of those days, but who knows, there might be some symbolism in there too. I really appreciate how everyone brings their own interpretation here.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The horns and the title. That gives a altogether different meaning. I think I will have to go with your Agatha Christie’s characters like doubting and detective work on this painting . Well, who knows maybe you are a detective in your free time 🙂

    Incredible share.

    Also reminds me of this recent Front Cover of Times, where they had Hillary Clinton on it.
    The letters forming a pair of horns over her head.
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-08/hillary-clintons-devil-horns-on-time-magazine-cover/8105158

    Liked by 1 person

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