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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)

Fleurs dans un pot de grès ou Intérieur, fleurs des champs

Details
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Fleurs dans un pot de grès ou Intérieur, fleurs des champs
signed 'Bonnard' (lower right)
oil on canvas
31 ¾ x 16 ¼ in. (80.6 x 41.3 cm.)
Painted in Le Cannet, circa 1939
Provenance
Duncan MacDonald, London.
The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), London (1948).
Dalzell Hatfield Galleries, Los Angeles (1948).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, July 1949.
Literature
J. and H. Dauberville, Bonnard: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1920-1939, Paris, 1973, vol. III, p. 448, no. 1576 (illustrated).
M. Potter et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, pp. 43 and 229, no. 79 (illustrated, p. 229).
Exhibited
Los Angeles, Dalzell Hatfield Galleries, A Superb Exhibition: Cézanne, Van Gogh, Renoir, Bonnard, Vuillard, Matisse, Rouault, Sisley, Dufy, Utrillo, May 1949 (illustrated; titled Interior with Bouquet).
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Lot Essay

In 1927, Bonnard and his wife Marthe acquired a modest villa known as Le Bosquet (“The Grove”), perched high above the bay of Cannes near the village of Le Cannet. Ever since 1909, the artist had spent winters on the Côte d’Azur—so alluringly different from his native Île-de-France. The latter was the birthplace of Impressionism, a land of green fields, cloud-filled skies, and constantly changing weather and light. The Côte d’Azur, by contrast, the enduring classical paradise of Signac, Matisse, and the aging Renoir, manifests a pervasive golden aura that required a heightened palette.
The purchase of Le Bosquet marked the first time that Bonnard had enjoyed a permanent base in the South, and he immediately set to work renovating the house, installing large French windows to let in the light and adding a dedicated studio space. In 1938, as the threat of war loomed large, Bonnard and Marthe sold their house in the Seine valley and moved permanently to Le Cannet, where the familiar rooms, the secluded garden, and the immediately surrounding landscape provided the artist with seemingly infinite pictorial possibilities.
“The artist who paints the emotions creates an enclosed world—the picture—which, like a book, has the same interest no matter where it happens to be,” Bonnard explained. “Such an artist, we may imagine, spends a great deal of time doing nothing but looking, both around him and inside him” (quoted in Bonnard, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1998, p. 9).
Bonnard painted the present still-life around 1939, soon after settling at Le Cannet for good. A tall stoneware pot filled with casually arranged field flowers is seen close-up against a strongly patterned ground, presumably a cloth-covered table. Rectilinear elements in the upper part of the composition—perhaps a window at the right, receding into depth, and either a curtain or a molded window frame beside it—serve as a foil for the vividly colored, organic forms in the foreground without clearly indicating the actual physical setting of the still-life. “The vantage point at times becomes so eccentric that the resulting image lies practically outside visual illusion,” James Elliott has written. “Architectural settings shift so that almost every clue by which the spectator can orient himself is dissembled” (Bonnard and His Environment, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1964, p. 29).
This rustic, variegated bouquet may have been placed either in the spacious dining room on the ground floor at Le Bosquet or in the intimate sitting area upstairs where Bonnard and Marthe took their breakfast and lunch each day. As always, however, Bonnard would have painted the composition in his studio, overt description giving way to incipient abstraction. “Paintings begun in the memory of a visual experience were transformed through color into a rich, immensely varied surface made up of a tapestry of brushstrokes, glazes, scumbles, impasto, highlights, and pentimenti,” Nicholas Watkins has written. “Objects were not so much painted as felt into shape within the surface over a long period. ‘The principal subject is the surface,’ Bonnard maintained, ‘which has its color, its laws over and above those of objects. It’s not a matter of painting life, it’s a matter of giving life to painting’” (Bonnard, London, 1994, p. 171).
In the present canvas, the narrow vertical format heightens the sense of spatial ambiguity and subtle, unexpected enchantment. Rather than working on a canvas of standard, predetermined size, Bonnard painted on a generous length of material tacked to the wall of his studio, altering the dimensions of the composition until he found just the right cropping and then creating a custom stretcher. “He needed the freedom to adjust the rectangle, especially its periphery,” Dita Amory has explained. “The strategy was particularly important in the late still-lifes, where the passages around the edges are intensified by the implied distance of the objects from the viewer, and a critical dialogue emerges between focus and ambiguity” (Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lifes and Interiors, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2009, p. 21).
Here, the vase of flowers seems to float against the patterned tablecloth, which is tipped up radically toward the picture plane, compressing the space of the composition and heightening the bouquet’s proximity to the viewer. Before the shifting and amorphous ground, the flowers retain their identity as individual blossoms—orange poppies or perhaps anemones, delicate white Queen Anne’s lace, tall stalks of dark blue iris in the rear. “He let the flowers wilt and then he started painting,” Bonnard’s housekeeper Antoinette recounted. “He said that way they would have more presence” (quoted in exh cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 28). The artist was an indefatigable walker, even in old age, and the informality and immediacy of the present bouquet suggests that he has just gathered the blossoms outdoors.
“His daily walk to wherever his fancy took him was essential for him; it was his way of gathering from its source the pollen of space and the pith of time,” wrote the curator and critic Jean Leymarie, following a visit to Bonnard at Le Cannet in 1946. “Immediately afterwards he would jot down his sensations in his meteorological diaries, in a free and uncontrolled way. On returning to his studio he distilled his booty by his own personal methods. He knew how to preserve the freshness of that first vision, to offer the moving eye a texture that is both shimmering and unified” (quoted in M. Terrasse, Bonnard at Le Cannet, New York, 1988, p. 9).
Peggy and David Rockefeller acquired Intérieur, fleurs des champs in 1949, just a decade after its creation. “Our purchase of this Bonnard,” Rockefeller recalled, “represented quite a departure in taste for us in that it is much less lifelike and more impressionistic than anything we had acquired previously. We have enjoyed it more and more with time” (M. Potter et al., op. cit., 1984, p. 229).

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