Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Property from the Estate of William Kelly Simpson
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

L'orgue de Barbarie ou Le joueur d'orgue

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
L'orgue de Barbarie ou Le joueur d'orgue
signed and dated 'PBonnard 95' (lower center)
oil on board
16 1/8 x 10 3/8 in. (40.9 x 26.3 cm.)
Painted in 1895
Roger Marx, Paris; Estate sale, Galerie Manzi-Joyant, Paris, 12 May 1914, lot 5.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris.
Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., London (acquired from the above, 1933).
Hugh Neame, France (possibly acquired from the above, 1935 and until at least 1949).
Mr. and Mrs. Dudley Tooth (by 1966).
E.V. Thaw & Co., Inc., New York (by 1979).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 5 February 1981.
R. Cogniat, Bonnard, Paris, 1989, p. 17 (illustrated in color).
J. and H. Dauberville, Bonnard: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1888-1905, Paris, 1992, vol. I, p. 147, no. 91 (illustrated).
T. Hyman, Bonnard, London, 1998, pp. 46 and 217 (illustrated in color, p. 47, pl. 31; with incorrect support).
London, Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., Anthology: Loan Exhibition of French Pictures from Private Collections, June 1949, no. 24.
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Dans la lumière de Vermeer: cinq siècles de peinture, September-November 1966, no. 56 (illustrated).
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Pierre Bonnard: Winter Exhibition, 1966, p. 35, no. 17.
London, Royal Academy of Arts and Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Post-Impressionism: Cross Currents in European Painting, November 1979-March 1980, pp. 49-50, no. 32 (illustrated, p. 49).
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., La revue blanche: Paris in the Days of Post-Impressionism and Symbolism, November-December 1983, p. 83 (illustrated in color, p. 32; with incorrect support).
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts and New York, IBM Gallery of Science and Art, Pleasures of Paris: Daumier to Picasso, June-December 1991, pp. 66 and 181, no. 9 (illustrated in color, p. 66).
Kunsthaus Zürich and Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Die Nabis Propheten der Moderne, May 1993-January 1994, p. 126, no. 16 (illustrated in color).

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Max Carter
Max Carter

Lot Essay

Beginning in the early 1890s, at the height of his association with the circle of young avant-garde painters who called themselves the Nabis, Bonnard produced a series of provocatively modern Parisian cityscapes that portray the countless vignettes and chance encounters that comprise the daily experience of the urban street. On his ritual early-morning walks, he was constantly alert to the shock of an image—to unexpected incidents and fugitive sensations, glimpsed in passing, which sparked his impulse to begin a canvas. “It was in the metropolis,” Timothy Hyman has written, “that he first developed the faculty of passive attention, of waiting for that sudden welling-up of excited recognition, when a spatial arrangement locks perfectly into place, and a situation becomes an image” (op. cit., 1998, p. 46). He then painted back in his studio, mediating this initial experience through the subjectivity of memory—“distilling emotion from the most modest acts of life,” he explained, “the theater of the everyday” (quoted in ibid., p. 50).
In the present work, Bonnard depicts an organ-grinder plying his trade on a narrow strip of pavement before a yellow-brick apartment building, very likely in the Batignolles district at the foot of bohemian Montmartre, where the artist rented a succession of studios from 1889 onward. A woman in a red dress leans over the railing of a second-story window to watch the musician, becoming at once a voyeur of the public realm and part of the urban spectacle herself. The flat façade of the apartment building, like a theatrical backdrop, occupies nearly the entirely plane of the canvas, leaving only a shallow stage for the organ-grinder. Bonnard’s viewpoint is at eye level with the woman, as though he were observing the entire scene from another window across the street, or from a metaphorical theater box.
By 1895, the year that he painted Le joueur d’orgue, Bonnard had begun to distance himself from the more mystical and theoretical of his young colleagues, including Denis and Sérusier, and to seek ways of reconciling the immediacy of direct experience with the highly decorative art form favored by the Nabis. The close cropping of the present scene, inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e prints and the new technology of the Kodak snapshot, conveys all the freshness and informality of the first glance, while simultaneously reinforcing the underlying structure of the image. “Le joueur d’orgue shows Bonnard’s enjoyment of the formal division of the surface—the yellow building, the cool white shutters, the sudden deep black of an open window—by which a genre scene is raised to a stilled abstract harmony,” Hyman has noted. “In the silence of the emptied grid, the solitary music-maker embodies a delicate pathos” (ibid., p. 46).
Bonnard would later date the crystallization of his full painterly identity to this very moment, on the cusp of his first solo exhibition at Durand-Ruel. “The year was around 1895,” he recounted. “One day, the words and theories that were the foundation of our conversations—color, harmony, the relation between line and tone, balance—lost their abstract significance and became very concrete. I understood what I was seeking and how I would try to obtain it. What came after? The point of departure had been given to me; the rest was just daily life” (quoted in Pierre Bonnard: Early and Late, exh. cat., The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 2002, p. 31).

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