Jan Minchin has remarked upon the way in which 'the almost overwhelming femininity of the Edwardian period was captured by [Rupert] Bunny... Billowing dresses, flimsy fabrics and huge hats dripping with feathers, flowers and satin abound... There is little evidence of "the new woman' who hitched up her skirts, went cycling and played golf, hockey and lacrosse.'1 Nevertheless, amongst Bunny's leisured ladies there are occasional hints of a feminist independence of mind; many of his models are shown reading (or at least with books in their hands), as in paintings such as Sunday afternoon (1908, private collection), The new book (circa 1910, private collection), Summer time (Royan) (circa 1910, Newcastle Region Art Gallery) and On the balcony (Champ de Mars) (circa 1913, National Gallery of Australia). Indeed, the 1917 Paris exhibition in which Woman reading was first exhibited also included a letter (La lettre, cat. 8), a newspaper (Le journal, cat. 23) and a novel (Le roman, cat. 45).
By presenting his models in the act of reading, Bunny is able to maintain the fiction of the subject caught unawares, and the attendant sense of precious, delicate pause and poise. His 1910s interiors and exteriors are in fact tableaux of extreme artifice, of calculation even, and the mechanics of picture-making can be readily discerned through the artist's choice, arrangement and repetition of models, attitudes and props; the present work, for example, is closely related to The casket (circa 1914-1917), in its use of the same model and in her adoption of a quite similar pose.
The other key aspect of Bunny's work from this period is his careful articulation of sunshine and shadow, both in garden and room settings. Several paintings in the 1917 exhibition featured the device of light filtering through soft, translucent curtains, amongst them Girl at a window (circa 1914-1917, National Gallery of Victoria) and the present work. In its soft chiaroscuro, in its delicate silver flows of lace and muslin, in the colour and pattern of banquette and cushions, Woman reading is an exquisite example of Bunny's realistic fantasy, or fantastic reality, an emotional and artistic defence against the horrors of the Great War.
As Gustave Geffroy put it in his essay introducing the 1917 show: 'Against these backdrops of existence, seen in all their simplicity and all their significance, with their precise qualities of light and shade, the artist presents enchanted creatures, real women who look, who reflect, who breathe, who live. They are at home... at one with the flowers and foliage of the garden, with the furniture and draperies of the room.'2
We are most grateful to David Thomas for his assistance in cataloguing this work. This work is to be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by Daniel Thomas.
1. Jan Minchin, The art of Rupert Bunny and E. Phillips Fox: paintings from the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1884, p. 2
2. Gustave Geffroy, 'Rupert Bunny', in Exposition Rupert C.W. Bunny, Paris: Galeries Georges Petit, 1917, pp. 6-7
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale