As Whitfield mentions, Bonnard’s intimate depictions of nudes are indebted to the tradition of Degas, whose pastels of women at their toilette were a great source of inspiration for the artist. In the present work, Bonnard chose a soft palette similar in tonality to Degas’s delicate pastels, however, the medium of oil allows for a clearly defined depiction of the figure. Bonnard enhanced the balance of this composition by adding the device of a mirrored surface, in which the tub where Marthe is about to bathe is clearly reflected.
The monumental nude depicted in the bathroom, as in the present work, was a major recurring theme in Bonnard’s work from his early years until his death in 1947. Sasha Newman discusses the early influential nudes as follows: “This early exploration of the female subject culminated in a series of nudes painted in the years preceding the turn of the century, including L’Homme et la femme, L’Indolente, and La Sieste, which resonate with an explicit eroticism unique in Bonnard’s work. The emotional charge of these paintings continues to inform his later nudes – modulated, transformed, but ever present – and becomes the central feature in so many of the interiors in the early years of the twentieth century. Bonnard’s obsession with the nude is generally focused on the lonely, solitary figure of Marthe” (Pierre Bonnard: the Late Paintings (exhibition catalogue), Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. & Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, 1984, p. 108).
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