Vuillard studied art from 1886 to 1888 at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1889 he joined a group of art students that included Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Sérusier, Ker-Xavier Roussel, and Félix Vallotton. They called themselves the Nabis (Hebrew for “Prophets”), and they drew their inspiration from the Synthetist paintings of Paul Gauguin’s Pont-Aven period. Like Gauguin, the Nabis advocated a symbolic, rather than a naturalistic, approach to colour, and they usually applied their paint in ways that emphasized the flat surface of the canvas. Their admiration of Japanese woodcuts, which were then in vogue in Europe, inspired them to use simplified shapes and strong contours.
In 1899 the Nabis exhibited together for the last time. That year Vuillard began to paint in a more naturalistic style. He also executed two series of masterful lithographs that reveal his great debt to Japanese woodcuts. Vuillard continued to receive numerous commissions to paint portraits and decorative works for private patrons as well as for public buildings. Over the course of nearly 15 years beginning in 1923, he painted intimate portraits of his artist friends Bonnard, Roussel, Denis, and sculptor Aristide Maillol, each portrayed at work in his studio. His public paintings included the decorations in the foyer of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (1913) and murals in the Palais de Chaillot (1937) and in the League of Nations in Geneva (1939).