Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

Nu devant la glace ou Baigneuse

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Nu devant la glace ou Baigneuse
signed 'Bonnard' (lower right)
oil on canvas
23 5/8 x 20 1/8 in. (59.9 x 51 cm.)
Painted in 1915
Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
Marcel Mabille, Brussels (by 1968).
Private collection, Belgium; sale, Sotheby's, London, 24 June 1997, lot 12.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. and H. Dauberville, Bonnard, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint 1906-1919, Paris, 1968, vol. II, p. 348, no. 816 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée d'art moderne, L'École de Paris dans les collections belges, July-October 1959 (dated 1918).

Lot Essay

One significant influence running through the depictions of nudes throughout Bonnard's work is that of his model, muse, and from 1925, wife, Marthe de Méligny, born Maria Boursin in 1869. Bonnard met her in 1893 but she had taken such pains to erase her family's past that he did not learn her real name until 1925, when they finally married after living together for nearly thirty years. Plagued constantly by ill-health, Marthe, possibly following the accepted advice of the time, felt a compulsion to bathe frequently, which provided Bonnard with an endless source of visual inspiration. Bonnard's depictions of Marthe create a timeless and ageless vision of his lifelong partner and muse, always depicting her in her mid-twenties, the age she was when they first met. Even when the artist hired a professional model at times, he would feel uncomfortable in her presence and his depictions of any model other than Marthe would become indistinguishable from those of her, further blurring the boundaries between reality and idealisation.
The female form for Bonnard was a celebration of beauty and desire, as well as a characteristic exploration of space, pattern and balance. "As he entered his fifties, like Degas before him, Bonnard became increasingly conscious of the central place of the nude within the great tradition of European art... The frozen sequences of Marthe's daily routine in the bathroom were observed with the classical detachment of Degas and structured in an outstanding series of bather compositions; the transient was made monumental and eternal, the movements of life were accomodated within the geometry of art" (N. Watkins, Bonnard, London, 1994, pp. 181-182).

By 1908 Bonnard had largely discarded the muted tonalities and intimiste realism he had carried over from his Nabi phase, and adopted an intensely atmospheric and Impressionist palette. Indeed, by around 1915, when the present work was painted, Bonnard had arrived at a personal manner of using high-keyed tonalities that goes beyond even Monet's late explorations into color. The artist seems bent on taking Impressionist color to a state in which flesh and objects nearly dematerialize in radiant, all-pervasive light. The present painting is composed mainly of such hot tones: pinks, orange and yellow, relieved by white and pale blue.

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