In view of the brilliance of color and freshness of execution that characterizes Bonnard's gouaches, it is surprising to find that the artist worked only infrequently in this medium. Bonnard was an avid and spontaneous draughtsman, to which his many small, quickly drawn sketches attest, and his gouaches possess similar qualities. In his oil paintings, however, he worked more much slowly and proceeded incrementally--he was well-known for constantly retouching them, and is even reported to have once had a museum guard distracted so that he could retouch an exhibited painting on the sly. Quick-drying water-based gouache does not lend itself to a such lengthy consideration, but when the mood was on him, Bonnard worked adeptly and with great success in this medium, and the results, rare in number, call special attention to themselves.
The present gouache proceeded from a drawing that Bonnard sketched in his daily diary on the facing pages for 1-4 November 1933 (fig. 1). The artist kept diaries from 1925 to 1946. The entries occasionally recorded his thoughts, but more frequently include small sketches, shopping lists of artist's supplies, and on every day from 1925 to about six months following the death of Marthe in January 1942, a brief notation concerning the weather. In the entries for 3-4 November, he simply wrote "fine" and "cold." The drawing of a wicker basket with fruit on these pages is unusually finished for his diary sketches, and the artist translated it closely into gouache to yield the present painting. During this time Bonnard was experimenting in his still-life compositions with the direction of the light as it strikes the objects, and here the light appears to have come from dual sources. The stronger light has cast a dark shadow around the immediate periphery of the basket, while the weaker source has created secondary shadow to the sides and foreground, which the artist has rendered unexpectedly in white gouache, creating more the effect of an aura than a shadow.
The drawing was probably done in the dining room of the artist's small villa 'Le Bosquet' in the town of Le Cannet near Cannes, which Bonnard purchased in 1926. Using the diary sketch and his memory of the light and colors, he would have painted the gouache in his studio on the floor above. This high-rimmed basket appears in another drawing from around this time (see Bonnard Drawings, exh. cat., The American Federation of Arts, New York, 1972, no. 79). It is similar, and possibly identical, to a basket used in several major still-life paintings from the mid-1930s and thereafter (Dauberville, nos. 1534, 1539, 1547 and 1589), and in another gouache done in 1935 (see The South Bank Centre, London, exh, cat., Bonnard at Le Bosquet, 1994, no. 24).
(fig. 1) Bonnard's diary pages, 1-4 November 1933. The estate of the artist. Barcode 23671058