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

Corbeille de fruits sur une table dans le jardin du Cannet

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Corbeille de fruits sur une table dans le jardin du Cannet
signed ‘Bonnard’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
26 ¾ x 21 5/8 in. (67.8 x 55 cm.)
Painted in Le Cannet, circa 1944
Estate of the artist.
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, October 1963.
J. and H. Dauberville, Bonnard: Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, 1940-1947 et supplément 1887-1939, Paris, 1974, vol. IV, p. 70, no. 1644 (illustrated).
M. Potter et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, p. 231, no. 80 (illustrated in color, p. 230; illustrated again in situ in the Rockefellers' Hudson Pines home, p. 37).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; The Art Institute of Chicago and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Bonnard and His Environment, October 1964-May 1965, p. 109, no. 78 (illustrated in color, p. 104; titled Still Life with Fruit and dated circa 1943-1944).
London, Tate Gallery and New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Bonnard, February-October 1998, p. 232, no. 90 (illustrated in color, p. 233).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lifes and Interiors, January-April 2009, p. 156, no. 64 (illustrated in color, p. 157; dated circa 1943-1944).
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Lot Essay

In a corner of the verdant, overgrown garden of his house at Le Cannet, Bonnard painted a shallow wicker basket filled with bright red cherries and golden grapes—a sensuous bounty of local fruits, tipped toward the picture plane for the viewer’s visual delectation. The tabletop that supports this luscious still-life is rendered in a tapestry of green, blue, and magenta hues, suggesting that Bonnard studied the motif in a partially shaded spot. The Mediterranean light filters through the surrounding foliage and illuminates the fruit itself, which stands out against the cool ground like glowing round jewels. “Bonnard’s objects are pervaded by the light and heat of the sun,” Charles Sterling has written, “whose rays seem to melt down the fruits to a colored essence of their flesh and their taste; his interiors are fragrant with it” (Still Life Painting from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century, New York, 1981, p. 124).
Corbeille de fruits sur une table dans le jardin du Cannet is unusual in Bonnard’s oeuvre as a still-life composition with an outdoor setting; he far more often painted fruit and flowers in the dining room of his home at Le Cannet or in the small sitting room upstairs. The dense wall of greenery behind the table, however, creates the illusion of an enclosed space, completely blocking the sky. In Bonnard’s many paintings on the theme of the open door or window, his goal was to create a spatial link between the intimacy of the interior and the expansiveness of landscape. Here, he has united these two different realms of experience into a single alluring scene, evoking an al fresco repast on a hot summer’s day.
Unlike his old friend Monet, who was famous for the meticulously cultivated grounds of his house at Giverny, Bonnard preferred to let his gardens grow wild, reveling in the exuberance of nature. In the present painting, a tropical-looking plant with narrow, pointed leaves stretches toward the upper edge of the canvas at left; to the right, Bonnard has rendered the foliage as a nearly abstract passage of variegated green tones, applied with fluid, wash-like effects to suggest the dappling of the sunlight. “Bonnard greatly liked to hoe and even more to dig, water, and do all kinds of gardening except restricting the growth of the plants and flowers,” Thadée Natanson recalled (quoted in Pierre Bonnard, Observing Nature, exh. cat., National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2003, p. 54).
Bonnard painted this brilliantly colored composition around 1944, when the German Occupation was in its fourth and final year. Until 1938, he and his wife Marthe had lived a peripatetic life, spending the spring and summer months at Vernonnet in Normandy and the remainder of the year at Le Cannet, overlooking the Côte d’Azur. As Europe drew toward the brink of war, however, Bonnard sold his home in the north and took permanent refuge at Le Cannet, where his life and his art became completely intertwined. “As for moving into a palatial hotel for a little material comfort,” he wrote to Matisse in 1941, “I would lose the basis of my existence, the constant contact with nature, and my way of working” (quoted in Bonnard at Le Bosquet, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1994, p. 40).
The artist remained in voluntary exile at Le Cannet even in the face of great personal loss and mounting isolation. His brother Charles, his dealer Josse Bernheim, and his close friend Vuillard all died within a year of each other; Denis, Roussel, and Maillol, three companions from his early Nabi days, were next. Most devastating of all was Marthe’s death in January 1942, which left the artist alone at Le Cannet. “Nature is the only consolation at this time,” wrote the deeply grieving Bonnard, depicted in contemporaneous self-portraits with sunken eyes and an emaciated frame (quoted in N. Watkins, Bonnard, London, 1994, p. 217).
In the present canvas, filled with vivid color and burgeoning life, Bonnard repudiated the sorrow stemming from these tragic circumstances. “The pain and desolation of the final self-portraits were vanquished by the radiant vision of his late style,” Nicholas Watkins has written. “Paintings that began in the memory of the first impression...were transformed through color into glorious light-filled tapestries” (ibid., p. 217). Here, the encompassing foliage serves to insulate the garden from the world outside, like a medieval cloister. The platter of cherries and grapes is positioned at the very edge of the table, suggesting that it was set down quickly; there is an air of subtle expectation about the scene, as though someone—perhaps Marthe—might return to partake of the ripe fruit. At the same time, the deeply saturated hues and the warm golden light create a pervasive mood of timelessness and nostalgia.
“The finest of Bonnard’s late pictures throb with intensity,” Denys Sutton has concluded. “He secured a magical transformation of the real world so that the interior of his studio or his garden at Le Cannet assume an infectious radiance. His rich orchestration of color records a world which was on the verge of disappearing at the end of his life” (Pierre Bonnard, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1966, p. 24).
Peggy and David Rockefeller acquired Corbeille de fruits from Wildenstein in 1963. “We saw it and liked it immediately,” David Rockefeller recalled. “It has a kind of liquid quality to the painting and a freshness of color which is very beautiful. It is over the mantel in our bedroom at Hudson Pines” (M. Potter et al., op. cit., 1984, p. 231).

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