Vuillard belonged to the artistic movement called The Nabis, the Hebrew term for prophet. The Nabis banded together in the late 19th century to create a new artistic language based upon the expressive potential of decorative color and stylized forms. Vuillard's success as part of this group encouraged wealthy patrons to seek his services, but for more realistically rendered portraits.
The present piece was requested by the Compagnie Parisienne de Distribution d'Éléctricité, the Paris company for which the sitter, André Bénac, was president. The commission was made to commemorate Bénac receiving the Grand Croix, the highest award of the Legion of Honor.
Vuillard made two versions of the portrait-this one meant for Bénac and another one, now in Zurich, Switzerland, (see photo), to remain the property of the company. In each case, the sitter appears in his living room/office, and he holds an identical pose, showing the same warm, friendly smile. However, in the museum's portrait, Vuillard omitted a significant portion of the surrounding room and altered the format from horizontal to vertical. The viewer can focus more easily upon the man represented because the diagonal of the table has been cut closer to the sitter and no longer leads the eye away toward the window.
Photo of: Vuillard. André Bénac, 1935-36; distemper on canvas; 51 in. x 61 1/2 in. Fondation Rau pour le Tiers-Monde, Zurich.