PIERRE BONNARD (1867-1947)
PIERRE BONNARD (1867-1947)
PIERRE BONNARD (1867-1947)
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PIERRE BONNARD (1867-1947)
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PIERRE BONNARD (1867-1947)

Portrait de femme

PIERRE BONNARD (1867-1947)
Portrait de femme
signed 'Bonnard' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 1/4 x 29 5/8 in. (64.2 x 75.4 cm.)
Painted circa 1910
Misia Sert, Paris (acquired from the artist).
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (by 1950).
Katia Granoff, Paris.
Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, November 1957.
J. and H. Dauberville, Bonnard: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1906-1919, Paris, 1968, vol. II, p. 181, no. 583 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Bonnard, May-July 1950, p. 22, no. 18 (dated 1915 and titled Portrait de Madame M.C.).
Caracas, Museo de Bellas Artes, Segunda exposición de obras clásicas de la pintura europea, December 1956, no. 37 (titled Retrato de Mme Sert).

Lot Essay

In 1910, Bonnard was intently working in his brand new atelier at 21, quai Voltaire. Now 43 years-old, he was determined to find his own individual artistic voice, incorporating the lessons learned during his formative years in his new production while looking for inspiration elsewhere.
From 1880 to the turn of the century, he had been part of the Nabis, a group of young painters at the forefront of the Parisian avant-garde art scene, including artists such as Maurice Denis, Edouard Vuillard and Félix Vallotton. By 1910, however, the days of Bonnard’s Nabi youth were in the past. His process of re-discovery was facilitated by his increasing sojourns in the south of France, starting with a long stay in Saint Tropez with fellow painter Henri Manguin in 1908. The area was to become central to the artist’s production.
During the same period, important commissions were further corroborating his reputation. In 1910, the artist completed a series of panels commissioned four years prior by Misia Sert, pianist, tastemaker and muse of contemporary Paris, newly divorced from her husband and Nabi supporter Thadée Natanson. The bright light and vivid palette of the panels for Misia reflect the atmospheres and colours that Bonnard encountered in Saint Tropez – these are the common stylistic traits that scholars and the public have come to associate with Bonnard’s artistic personality.
Within his production of the 1910s, however, a group of pictures tells us of a unique and fascinating direction in Bonnard’s artistic experimentation. The present work forms part of this extraordinary group.
While Bonnard is generally known for his intimate and bright interiors, the pictures in this series—Femme accoudée being a notable example—all take place in enclosed and dark spaces. Their protagonists are depicted lazily sitting on a sofa in lavish clothing and in pensive moods with vacant, contemplative gazes. The dynamic poses and the stark light hitting them from the side transform their confined settings into far more dramatic, almost theatrical ones.
The same could be said about the sitter of the present picture. The woman depicted here is resting comfortably on a richly decorated sofa, glancing away from us, lost in thought. With her left arm resting on the couch and her right one caressing the fur barely covering her chest, she is presented to the viewer almost as an actress on a stage, a perfect example of Bonnard’s unique ability to represent, as he called it himself, the "theatre of the everyday."
In this sense, the warm and familiar intimisme so often connected with Bonnard is replaced here with a conception of the interior more in line with that of his predecessor, Edgar Degas: imposing figures shown in confined spaces, painted with free brushstrokes and sombre colours, commanding the attention of the viewer. This should not surprise us: as Bonnard himself notes, at the time he had "decided to pick up the research of the Impressionists, and to attempt to take it further" and that "when we discovered Impressionism a little later, it came as a new enthusiasm, a sense of revelation and liberation. Impressionism brought us freedom" (quoted in T. Hyman, Bonnard, London, 1998, p. 65). In the present picture, one can witness Bonnard attempting come to grips with the legacy of Impressionism, trying to integrate it with the Nabi lessons he had learned in his youth, most notable in the sumptuous decoration of the vibrant red sofa.
In 1956, when it was exhibited at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas, the painting was believed to be a portrait of Misia Sert, née Godebska, the Parisian socialite previously mentioned as a patron of the artist—a reasonable identification, given that Misia is recorded as the first owner of the work.
A true force of nature, she was incredibly influential in the Paris of the turn of the century and admired by the most important members of the contemporary art scene: artists like Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Vuillard all painted portraits of her multiple times. Bonnard was among them, displaying his profound veneration for Misia throughout his life. His aforementioned atelier in the quai Voltaire was in the same building where Misia was living and apparently, "at the end of his life, whenever he made one of his infrequent trips to Paris, Bonnard would come to sit quietly in a corner of Misia’s salon in a tender, adoring silence" (A. Gold, Misia. The Life of Misia Sert, New York, 1992, p. 40). Whether Misia is or isn’t the woman portrayed, the present picture undoubtedly evokes in its viewers similar feelings to the ones felt by Bonnard in Misia’s company: a need for silence, contemplation, and a profound sense of awe.

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