Pierre Bonnard Succession (no. 99)
Charles Terrasse, Fontainebleau (gift of his uncle, Pierre Bonnard), 1964
Sam Salz Inc., New York
Private collection, since 1966
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, Bonnard and his Environment, respectively 5 October - 29 November 1964 and 31 March - 31 May 1965, no. 14 of the leaflet supplementary to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art catalogue
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou-Musée National d’Art Moderne, Washington, The Phillips Collection, Dallas, Museum of Art, Bonnard, respectively 23 February - 21 May 1984, no. 35, ill. p. 119 in the French catalogue and 9 June - 20 August 1984 and 16 September - 20 November 1984, no. 34, ill. p. 175 in the American catalogue
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Pierre Bonnard, 14 December 1984 - 10 March 1985, no. 115, ill. p. 231
Lausanne, Fondation de l’Hermitage, Pierre Bonnard et son monde enchanté, 7 June - 6 October 1991, no. 61, ill.
Andros, Museum of Contemporary Art, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Classics of Modern Art, 27 June - 19 September 1999, p. 94-97, ill. p. 95, 97
Saint-Paul, Fondation Maeght, Le Nu au XXe siècle, 4 July - 30 October 2000, no. 13
Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Pierre Bonnard, l’œuvre d’art, un arrêt du temps, 2 February - 7 May 2006, no. 69, p. 216, ill. p. 217
Jean & Henry Dauberville, Bonnard, Catalogue Raisonné de l’Œuvre Peint, Paris, 1965, vol. III (1920-1939), no. 1364, ill. p. 296
Michel Terrasse, Bonnard et Le Cannet, Paris, Herscher, 1987, ill. p. 95
Julian Bell, Bonnard, London, Phaidon Press Limited, 1994, pl. 37, p. 104
John Elderfield, “Seeing Bonnard”, Bonnard, exhibition catalogue, The Tate Gallery, London, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, fig. 17, ill. p. 39
Nicholas Watkins, Bonnard, London and New York, Phaidon, 1994, no. 151, p. 198
Timothy Hyman, Bonnard, Thames and Hudson, London, 1998, ill. 133, ill. p. 165
The theme of a woman at her toilette plays a central role in Bonnard’s work. It is closely related to the figure of Marthe de Méligny, Bonnard’s companion since 1893 and his wife since 1925. The painter was so fascinated by her unclothed body that he photographed her nude on countless occasions and painted her tirelessly.
At first, he painted Marthe at her toilette in the shallow zinc tub. He took a particular interest in the various positions the model takes while seeing to her toilette, paying little attention to her face and the surrounding details. Later on, the basin is replaced by a bathtub. Due to breathing difficulty, Marthe spent many hours in her bathroom, submerged in bathwater. Bonnard made the most of this situation and from that point forward he described the décor and the furnishings in detail. The window gives him the opportunity to analyse the variations of light on the tiles and linoleum. The depth of the bathtub also allows him to focus on Marthe’s body immersed in water, examining how the diffraction of light modifies the hue of the skin in minute detail. Sometimes he depicts it with the look of a vibrant sensual body whose beauty arouses desire, whereas other times he paints it bluish and stiff, like a corpse.
In the many canvasses immortalizing Marthe at her toilette, the model presents the image of an inert body that has surrendered to the relaxation of this moment. On rare occasions, just like in this work, she suddenly comes to life and shows herself to be of an unsuspected flexibility and strength. Art critics and historians agree in their amazement for the extremely elongated female body that seems to be balancing on the slippery edge of the bathtub. The floating sensation is highlighted by the fact that the joints of the tiles and the edge of the bathtub follow lines parallel to Marthe, whose head is in the centre of the painting. In this way, she turns into a mysterious idol, who despite her central position in the composition, looks ready to escape through the window. Her face, veiled by shades of violet that are also reflected in the back wall, remains mysterious, unrecognizable.
This alternation between sections that are precisely painted – linoleum, bath mat, tiles, teapot, table – and outlined surfaces – like cloths placed on the chair facing the model, her left leg, her face, the window – is not in the least unsettling. Bonnard’s masterly treatment of colour unites the whole and renders this over refined perspective totally logical. Viewers feel so utterly immersed in the scene that they re-emerge almost like voyeurs who’ve seen more than they had bargained for. Thanks to his command of colour, Bonnard manages to offer this composition all its harmony.