In 1912, the year he painted Femme au chien, Bonnard purchased a modest country house in Vernonnet, a picturesque village near Giverny where the Ile-de-France borders Normandy. He named this residence "Ma Roulotte" (My Caravan), reflecting his love of travel. Following his move, the artist increasingly painted the environment and rituals of his domestic life. The resulting intimate interior compositions are meditations on the people, places, and things that surrounded the painter. He explained, "The artist who paints the emotions creates an enclosed world--the picture--which, like a book, has the same interest no matter where it happens to be. Such an artist, we may imagine, spends a great deal of time doing nothing but looking, both around him and inside him" (quoted in S. Whitfield, Bonnard, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1998, p. 9). Discussing Bonnard's painting from this period, Nicholas Watkins has written: "Paintings begun in the memory of a visual experience encapsulated in a drawing were transformed through color into a rich, immensely varied surface made up of a tapestry of brushstrokes, glazes, scumbles, impasto, highlights, and pentimenti. Objects were not so much painted as felt into shape within the surface over a long period" (N. Watkins, Bonnard: Color and Light, London, 1998, pp. 168, 171). The present painting represents one of Bonnard's many canvases from Vernonnet that portray combinations of family members and pets sharing an intimate repast. Dogs and cats abound in these scenes, especially the painter's dog, Black, and Madame Bonnard's petite brown basset, Ubu. Like the panoply of cats and canines that stare patiently yet intently in the hope of snatching a stray, toothsome morsel, the brown-eared, spotted pointer in the present work looks to the fashionably-dressed Madame Bonnard in the present scene as she pauses after a refreshing drink and some fruit.
In the present work, the vibrant colors and interplay between interior and exterior space are particularly reminiscent of the art of Henri Matisse, Bonnard's close friend and frequent correspondent. In 1912, Bonnard purchased Matisse's brilliantly colored Fauve canvas La fenêtre ouverte à Collioure, 1905 (fig. 1), which he kept for the remainder of his life. Matisse had acquired Bonnard's La soirée au salon, 1907 (Private collection) the previous year. Inspired by Matisse's combination of studio and seascape, Bonnard executed numerous views out the window of his dining room, such as the monumental Salle à manger à la campagne of 1913. The leafy tree at the left of the present work and the blue doorframe at the right establish an ambiguous space; Bonnard could have painted the work from the garden with the house in the background or from the inside looking out onto a colorful landscape. The vibrant scumble of pink, blue, and yellow brushstrokes recalls both painters' translation of line and form into expressive colors without relief or modeling. The two painters also exchanged letters about the importance of color: "I agree with you," wrote Bonnard to his friend, "that the painter's only solid ground is the palette and colors, but as soon as the colors achieve an illusion, they are no longer judged" (quoted in S. Whitfield, op. cit., p. 44).
(fig. 1) Henri Matisse, La fenêtre ouverte à Collioure, 1905. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. BARCODE 25010152