The present painting depicts Ma Roulotte, the house at Vernonnet that Bonnard purchased in 1912 (fig. 1). Vernonnet is situated on the banks of the Seine about seventy kilometers northwest of Paris and just a short drive from Giverny, where Monet had settled almost thirty years earlier. For the next three decades, Bonnard divided his time between the north and south, spending the summer months at Vernonnet and the winters at Saint-Tropez, Antibes, Cannes, and finally Le Cannet, where he bought a villa (Le Bosquet) in 1926. At Vernonnet, he painted the view from his dining-room window, from the large balcony that ran along the upper story of the house, and from the small terrace overlooking the Seine; an indefatigable walker, he also set up his easel on the banks of the river itself and on the hillsides near his home. He was particularly concerned with capturing those qualities that he felt distinguished the northern landscape: the fertile green fields, the cloud-filled skies, and the constant changes in weather. Nicholas Watkins has written, "He found the motifs around his house Ma Roulotte endlessly stimulating, and he tackled them with all the enthusiasm and freshness of an artist oblivious to what others had done before him. He needed, as he said, the lush pastures and passing clouds of the north as a fitting complement to the heat and timelessness of the south, in the same way that an intense red engenders a green after-image" (Bonnard, London, 1994, p. 127).
Ciel d'été is one of only a few paintings that Bonnard made in which the architecture of Ma Roulotte, set within the lush surrounding landscape, takes center stage. He painted two views of the house and gardens shortly after purchasing the property in 1912 (Dauberville, nos. 724 and 726; Private collection and Art Institute of Chicago) and another pair of canvases on the same theme in 1920 (Dauberville, nos. 992 and 993; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and National Museum of Wales, Cardiff). Small portions of the wooden balcony, which is a prominent feature of the present composition, are also visible in some of Bonnard's most monumental decorative landscapes from this period, including La terrasse, 1918 (Dauberville, no. 941; Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.) and La terrasse à Vernon, 1928 (Dauberville, no. 1389; Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf). In the present canvas, a key feature is the contrast between the tidy architecture of the house, with its numerous rectilinear accents (the shutters, the slats of the balcony), and the overgrown profusion of plants and flowers surrounding it. Unlike Monet, who was famous for the meticulously cultivated grounds of his house at Giverny, Bonnard preferred to let his gardens grow wild, reveling in the sense of splendid and undisciplined nature. Bonnard's close friend Thadée Natanson recalled about Ma Roulotte, "The house was set in a pleasing balance and was located in the center of the garden, where Bonnard greatly liked to hoe and even more to dig, water, and do all kinds of gardening except restricting the growth of the plants and flowers" (quoted in Pierre Bonnard, Observing Nature, exh. cat., National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2003, p. 54).
(fig. 1) Photograph of Ma Roulotte (Documents J. and H. Dauberville)
Barcode 28001997 FIG