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Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

Le modèle à la chemise blanche

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Le modèle à la chemise blanche
signed 'Bonnard' (upper right)
oil on canvas
25½ x 19¾ in. (65 x 50 cm.)
Painted circa 1905
Anon. sale, Hôtel Rameau, Versailles, 18 March 1973.
Anon. sale, Gros & Delettrez, Paris, 5 April 2011, lot 50.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. and H. Dauberville, Bonnard, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1940-1947 et supplément 1887-1939, Paris, 1974, vol. IV, p. 246, no. 1887 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

The present canvas is part of a series of paintings that Bonnard made in 1905 which depict an attractive young woman, sometimes clothed and sometimes nude, posed in his Paris studio at 65, rue de Douai. In some examples, she is occupied by a task such as sewing, reading, or looking into a mirror; in the nude studies, she is most often shown in the act of undressing or, as in the present canvas, clutching a piece of discarded clothing or drapery. She is almost certainly a professional model, not Bonnard's lifelong companion (and most frequent sitter) Marthe de Méligny; her physique is fuller and more robust than Marthe's delicate, narrow-hipped frame. The paintings date to a critical juncture in Bonnard's career, marked by a mounting tension between his achievements in the Nabi style and his growing interest in Impressionism. They retain the close-up, intimite space and restricted palette of his Nabi period, but replace the linear outlines and flat planes of color with a loose, fragmented touch and more subtle tonal gradations. Looking back on this period some three decades later, Bonnard recalled, "When my friends and I decided to pick up the research of the Impressionists and try to take it further, we wanted to outshine them in their naturalistic impressions of color. Art is not Nature. We were stricter in composition. There was a lot more to be got out of color as a means of expression" (quoted in N. Watkins, Bonnard, London, 1992, p. 61).

The female nude--which would become Bonnard's central preoccupation in the mid-1920s, with his long, celebrated series of Marthe at her bath-- had emerged as a key theme in the artist's oeuvre around the turn of the century. In 1897, he received a commission from Vollard to illustrate Verlaine's Parallèlement, a book of erotic poems; the volume was published in 1900, with 109 lithographs by Bonnard based on photographs that he had taken of Marthe in the nude. Around the same time, Bonnard produced a series of major paintings on the theme of female sexuality, with overtly suggestive poses that are unique in his work (Dauberville, nos. 219, 224 and 227). In the present canvas and the related nudes from 1905, this explicit eroticism has been supplanted by an interest in the female body as a timeless, monumental form. The heavy, classical volumes of these nudes are indebted to the late work of Renoir, the Impressionist painter with whom Bonnard enjoyed the most fertile and enduring dialogue. The Bernheim brothers, who would become Bonnard's exclusive dealers in 1906, surrounded the entrance to their salon with an array of late Renoir nudes, and as late as 1941, Bonnard would declare, "I regarded Renoir as a rather strict father" (quoted in Renoir in the 20th Century, exh. cat., Los Angeles Museum of Art, 2009, p. 152). Nicholas Watkins has explained, "Bonnard felt that his increased concern for composition distinguished his art from that of the Impressionists, and this concern was inseparably linked with his treatment of the female nude. Renoir, his mentor in the treatment of the monumental nude, had turned to Cézanne in the 1880s for ways of structuring natural subjects, and Bonnard included a painting of bathers by Cézanne on the wall in his portrait of Vollard, circa 1904-1905.

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