Estate of the artist
Galerie Wildenstein, Paris (acquired from the above circa 1947)
Private Collection, Germany
Private Collection (by the 1970s)
Thence by descent to the present owner
Bonnard's depictions of the female nude were perhaps the best-regarded of his oeuvre. Throughout his career, the artist would execute numerous canvases of nude women at their toilette, emerging from the bath or dressing themselves. The nudes in many of these painting were usually inspired by people close to him, but for the most part the model was the artist's longtime companion, Maria Boursin (then Marthe Bonnard). Often pictured from a distance and surrounded by a comfortable interior setting, Bonnard's nudes look very much at ease with themselves, and as a result, these images have a natural and somewhat spontaneous quality, which enhances the intimacy of the scene. These women are depicted during their most private moments and convey the artist's understanding of and sensitivity towards the rituals of the bourgeoisie.
In Nu Assis, jambe pliée, completed around 1909, Bonnard presents the nude in full view, with her leg extending beyond the picture plane. Like Degas, who would radically crop his images of bathers in a manner resembling Japanese prints, Bonnard employs a similar method of establishing the boundary between the viewer and the figure. He encourages us to imagine the domestic space beyond the scope of the canvas with this pictorial device. There was a fine line between openness and vulnerability that was inherent in these compositions of nudes, and here Bonnard's careful attention to the arrangement of space ensures the delicate balance of the two qualities.
The nude is captured here in a personal moment, and appears to be deeply absorbed in her thoughts, as if unaware of being watched. Despite the imposing scale of this work, Bonnard retains the warm, personal atmosphere of his best intimiste paintings, portraying his muse indulging in a private moment. At the same time, he takes pleasure in depicting her nude figure in its full glory, lit by the warm light coming from an invisible source. Bonnard treated her skin as if depicting a landscape, creating a dramatic contrast between those parts exposed to light, like her legs and shoulder, and the parts in the shadow, including her face.
Discussing Bonnard's portrayals of Marthe, Sarah Whitfield wrote: 'Marthe is almost always seen in her own domestic surroundings, and as an integral part of those surroundings. [...] In a sense many of these works are variations on the theme of the artist and his model as well as on the double portrait. This is the case even when Bonnard is not visible. [...] We are always made acutely aware that whatever the subject of the painting – a nude, a still life, a landscape – what we are being asked to witness (and to participate in) is the process of looking. But it is in the paintings of Marthe above all that we find Bonnard portraying himself as the ever-attentive, watchful presence' (S. Whitfield, 'Fragments of Identical World', in Bonnard (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1998, p. 17).
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