- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

A painting by French artist Edouard Vuillard of a formal dinner held on behalf of the National Gallery of Art's major retrospective of his own work would be a harmonious tapestry of decorative details: the resplendent colors of women's gowns (Ruth Leffall in flowing purple satin), floral bouquets atop plum striped, tufted tablecloths, patterns on the Sevres china. The pianist playing Dubussy in the East Garden Court before the patron's dinner Thursday night might have been a vague black form in the foreground.
Images always seem inseparable from the setting in the painter's oeuvre, but the figures of newly arrived French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte and his wife, Marie-Cecile making their Washington social debut certainly would stand out, as would Antoine Javal, 82, of Paris, a donor to the show whose father was a friend of Vuillard's dealer. (Mr. Javal was 10 when he knew Vuillard.) There is a Bonnard but no Vuillard on French Embassy walls.
If the artist chose to tell a family story, he would include Charles Moffatt, former National Gallery curator now with Sotheby's in New York, who had the idea 15 years ago to assemble what is the most comprehensive exhibit of the painter's work ever seen in America.
"Its gestation is one of the longest in the history of this business," gallery director Earl A. "Rusty" Powell III told the crowd. After closing on April 20, the show goes to Montreal, Paris and London. Airbus is the corporate sponsor, its third gallery show in four years.
Being eclectically minded, Vuillard surely would have appreciated a guest list that included Charlotte Beers, the State Department's undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs; Federal Aviation Administrator Marion Blakey; man-about-town and trustees' council member Jim Kimsey; Chris and Kathleen Matthews of TV fame; Reps. Henry Waxman and Robert Matsui, both California Democrats; and Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, watched over by her security detail: three men in overcoats with plugs in their ears. (What would the artist make of them?)
The secretary, whose husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, was busy on Capitol Hill, was seen peering carefully at some of the more provoking Vuillard interiors, perhaps trying to plumb their secrets like the seasoned Washington hand she is.
Ann Geracimos

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