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

Le plat de figues

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Le plat de figues
signed 'Bonnard' (upper right)
oil on canvas
23¼ x 17¼ in. (59 x 44 cm.)
Painted in 1906
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Private collection, Switzerland.
Collection DOBE, Zurich (acquired from the above).
Anon. (acquired from the above, 1994); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 7 November 2006, lot 49.
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. 38, no. 390 (illustrated).
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art; Nara Sogo Museum of Art; Yokohama, Sogo Museum of Art and Fukuoka Art Museum, Pierre Bonnard, July-November 1991, no. 58.

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Painted in 1906, Le plat de figues dates 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. It retains the close-up, intimate space and restricted palette of his Nabi period, but replaces 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).

Bonnard, together with Vuillard, had been the most secular-minded of the Nabi painters, many of whom pursued religious and spiritual aims in their art. They took their intimiste subjects from everyday urban and domestic life, content which kept their work lively, freshly observed and current beyond the late 1890s, when the heyday of the Nabi movement had passed. The synthétiste compositions of Gauguin may have been the initial inspiration for the strongly stylized and decorative Nabi aesthetic, but by 1900 the paintings of Bonnard and Vuillard had more in common with the Impressionists, especially Degas and Renoir. "When we discovered Impressionism a little later," Bonnard stated, "it came as a new enthusiasm, a sense of revelation and liberation. Impressionism brought us freedom." Le plat de figues and other paintings of the first decade of the new century mark the initial phase of Bonnard's efforts to "pick up the research of the Impressionists, and to attempt to take it further" (quoted in T. Hyman, Bonnard, London 1998, p. 65).

Part still-life, part portrait, Le plat de figues combines the detailed study of an overflowing plate of figs with the soft focus on a tender, intimate moment shared between mother and child, likely the artist's sister Andrée and her daughter. An intimiste painting, the present work reflects Bonnard's "taste for everyday spectacles and the ability to draw emotion from the most modest acts of life" (E. Hutton Turner, Pierre Bonnard: Early and Late, exh. cat., Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 2002, p. 55).

Bonnard delights in the domestic, rendering a quiet and personal interaction in a sumptuous manner. His application of rapid, heavy brushstrokes of warm hues, accompanied by the textural cross-hatching of the figures' clothing lends a tactile facet to the work. The artist draws the gaze to the contented smile of the little girl, who commands the focus of both her mother and the spectator. The foreshortened space frames the viewer's encounter with the scene, creating a distinctly personal experience.

Conflating the genres of still-life and portraiture, Bonnard provides a rich display of colors and forms. With the prominent placement of the figs, he includes a hint of nature within an interior context and explores a composition which combines contrasting shapes both organic and man-made. This modern rendition of the mother and child accentuates the subtle treatment of colors and perfectly encapsulates his love of "significant forms, even in small formats" (quoted in S. Whitfield and J. Elderfield, Bonnard, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1998, p. 66).

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