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Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

Intérieur (Appartement de Bonnard à Paris)

Details
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Intérieur (Appartement de Bonnard à Paris)
signed ‘Bonnard’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
49 5/8 x 44 7/8 in. (126 x 114 cm.)
Painted in 1914
Provenance
Georges and Simone Menier, Paris (1922).
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris and Wildenstein et Cie., Paris (acquired through Jacques de Chollet, Lausanne, from the above, 5 December 1959).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, April 1960.
Literature
M.C. Saunier, "Une exposition d'art decoratif à L'hotel de la Revue Les Arts" in Les Arts, vol. XIII, June 1914, p. 17 (exhibition view illustrated).
C. Sterling and M.M. Salinger, French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Nineteenth-Twentieth Centuries, New York, 1967, vol. III, p. 209, no. 64.127 (illustrated; dated circa 1922).
J. and H. Dauberville, Bonnard: Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, 1906-1919, Paris, 1968, vol. II, p. 357, no. 830 (illustrated; dated circa 1915).
J. and H. Dauberville, Bonnard: Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, 1940-1947 et supplément 1887-1939, Paris, 1974, vol. IV, p. 459, no. 830.
M. Potter et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, p. 226, no. 77 (illustrated in color, p. 227; illustrated again in situ in the Rockefellers' Seal Harbor home, p. 45; dated circa 1912-1913).
Exhibited
(probably) Paris, Hôtel de la Revue, Les Arts, Exposition d’art décoratif, spring 1914.
Paris, L'Hôtel de la Curiosité et des Beaux-Arts, Première exposition de collectionneurs, March-April 1924, no. 152.
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Art, Pierre Bonnard, September 1992-January 1993, no. 33.
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Lot Essay

“I have all my subjects at hand. I go visit them. I take notes. And before I start to paint, I meditate, daydream,” Bonnard once stated. “It is the things close at hand that give an idea of the universe as the human eye sees it” (quoted in Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lifes and Interiors, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2009, pp. 61 and 122).
True to his word, Bonnard drew his most profound and enduring creative inspiration from the rooms in which he lived, transforming these familiar and well-trodden spaces into painted images redolent with an atmosphere of gentle reverie and subtle mystery—of existence fleetingly registered on the threshold between reality and dreams. In the present Intérieur, Bonnard has depicted his lifelong partner Marthe at the dining room table, her figure sunken in shadow and cropped by the door frame, her face entirely hidden and her red-striped dress echoing the pattern of the tablecloth. Although the couple’s pet dachshund gazes toward her, acutely aware of her presence, she registers to the viewer within the warp and weft of the composition only after a slight, almost imperceptible delay. The chief protagonist of the painting instead is the brilliant sun that streams into the room from the glass door at right and momentarily illuminates the bouquet of flowers, which in turn burst forth like tiny fireworks against the bright red wallpaper ground.
The exact site depicted in this vividly colored scene has never been securely identified. In August 1912, Bonnard purchased a small house called Ma Roulotte (“My Caravan”) at Vernonnet, a village in the Seine valley not far from Giverny. For the next 25 years, until late in his life, he divided his time between Paris, Vernonnet (in the summer), and the south of France (in the winter). The artist probably exhibited the present canvas in Paris in the spring of 1914, and technical examination indicates that it was painted while tacked to a wall and not stretched for some time after, suggesting that it was painted not long before then (M. Potter et al., op. cit., 1984, p. 226). The painting does not represent the dining room at Vernonnet, however, which had a round rather than a rectangular table. Most likely, Bonnard painted the canvas in an apartment that he rented from 1912 to 1915 at 40, rue Voltaire in Saint Germain-en-Laye, a suburb of Paris where he and Marthe spent most of the First World War.
In all the homes where he dwelled, Bonnard was constantly alert to the shock of an image—to fleeting observations that contained the potential to become a painting. He made notes in his journal of color patterns and other effects that sparked his impulse to begin a canvas and then painted back in his studio, recomposing and transforming his initial idea through layers of brilliant color to render the memory of his visual experience. “When Bonnard defined painting as un arrêt du temps (‘a stilling of time’),” Timothy Hyman has explained, “he implied a view of time very different from Impressionist instantaneity—from Monet’s serial moments of light. Bonnard could not go, like Monet, in search of his motif; the moment had already flowered, involuntary and unsought” (Bonnard, London, 1998, p. 93).
This method offers the key to understanding the present Intérieur, with its complex interplay of reality and illusion, of transience and timelessness. The inclusion of the door frame at the left suggests a view glimpsed in passing, recalling Bonnard’s dictum, recorded in his diary, “to show what one sees when one enters a room all of a sudden” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 37). The unexpected cropping of Marthe’s figure, as in a candid photograph, heightens this effect. At the same time, though, the molded vertical of the doorway functions like part of a picture frame, presenting the view into the dining room as an object of aesthetic contemplation, distanced from momentary experience, like the framed image that hangs on the wall in the background of the scene.
Balancing this interior doorway is the French door at the right—along with the open window, a favorite motif of Bonnard as it was for his friend Matisse. These two vertical elements create a rectilinear frame for the large field of red wallpaper, which functions to flatten the pictorial space, much like the passages of decorative patterning in Matisse’s contemporaneous interiors and the actual pasted paper in Picasso and Braque’s Cubist collages. Often, the glass portals in Bonnard’s work open onto a brightly colored landscape vista, playing on the Renaissance notion of painting as a view through a window. In the present canvas, by contrast, the glare of the sun is so strong that the French door has lost its transparency, reading instead as a series of opaque, silvery-white panels that assert the flatness of the picture plane as the essential fact of modernist painting.
“A window proved an infinitely flexible device,” Nicholas Watkins has written. “Like a painting, it acts both as an opening and a barrier, a three-dimensional view and an object in its own right. By distancing life from function, allowing the world to be viewed aesthetically, the window itself became a sign of the contemplative process of painting, and its ramifications went back to the very roots of Bonnard’s ambitions as an artist; for it enabled him to reconcile the perceptual experience of nature with the decorative surface” (Bonnard, London, 1994, pp. 171-172).
The intense light that enters through the glass door illuminates the right half of the tabletop while plunging the other side into deep shadow, like a sundial marking out a specific moment of the day. Also suggesting the passage of time is the bouquet of brightly colored flowers that catches the light, casually arranged and beginning to wilt very slightly. “Bonnard is a painter of the effervescence of pleasure and the disappearance of pleasure,” Sarah Whitfield has noted. “His celebration of life is one side of a coin, the other side of which is always present—a lament for transience” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 29). Caught between flowering and fading, these fresh blossoms contrast with the floral pattern on the wallpaper, which is impervious to what Bonnard himself called “the rapid, surprising action of time” (ibid., p. 28). A second spray of flowers on the sideboard intermingles so completely with the decorative red ground that it is distinguishable as an actual bouquet only upon careful examination, recalling Matisse’s great Harmonie rouge.
At the very periphery of this pageant of color and light, Marthe sits utterly still and silent, like an image embalmed in memory. She rests her elbow on the table and her cheek on one hand in a posture of meditation tinged with melancholy. In contrast to the conventionally posed portrait hanging on the wall—a Renoir lithograph from 1899 that depicts the actress Mademoiselle Dieterlé, clad in a showy plumed hat (Delteil, no. 26)—Marthe’s figure seems to vanish, ghostly and wraith-like, into her surroundings, as insubstantial as the transparent water goblet that rests before her on the table. “This dreaming feminine presence, Marthe, who so often appears in cut-off views—glimpsed on a balcony, through a door, or reflected in a mirror—is central to the underlying air of mystery, of hidden sadness in much of Bonnard’s art,” Sasha Newman has written (Bonnard: The Late Paintings, exh. cat., The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1984, p. 146).
The earliest known owner of Intérieur was Georges Menier, whose family owned the famous Chocolat Menier, the leading maker and distributor of quality packaged chocolates in France since the mid-1850s. Toward the end of the First World War, the wealthy and worldly Menier became a major patron of Modigliani, Matisse, and other modern painters; he and his wife Simonne acquired the present canvas by 1922.
Peggy and David Rockefeller purchased the painting from Galerie Durand-Ruel and Wildenstein in 1960. “Theodore Rousseau, who was curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum and had been at Harvard at about the same time I was, heard that this Bonnard was for sale in Paris and thought we might be interested in it,” David Rockefeller recounted. “He indicated that the Metropolitan would be very pleased to have it later on, if we were to buy it” (M. Potter et al., op. cit., 1984, p. 226). In the end, the Rockefellers decided to keep the painting in the family, rather than giving it to the museum; it hung over the fireplace in their living room at Ringing Point.

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