Ambroise Vollard, Paris
Private Collection, Switzerland
Collection DOBE, Zürich (acquired from the above)
Acquired from the above in 1994
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art; Nara Sogo Museum of Art; Yokohama, Sogo Museum of Art; Fukuoka Art Museum, Pierre Bonnard, 1991, no. 58
Le Plat de Figues depicts one of the most tender subjects in the history of art: a mother and child in embrace. Bonnard painted the composition in 1906, most likely while he and Marthe were spending their holiday in Le Grand-Lemps (Isère) in southern France. During these early years of his career, Bonnard devoted his production to scenes of domesticity, drawing on memories of his childhood and on observations of his nieces and nephews and the families in the French villages where he resided. In later years, Bonnard would turn his artistic attention to depictions of nudes, but here his focus remains on the joy of family life. The artist’s nephew Charles Terrasse once said of his uncle, “He has been called the enchanter, the magician, the painter of marvels. He wished to paint only happy things” (quoted in John Reward, Pierre Bonnard, New York, 1948, p. 10).
In this intimate domestic scene, the artist depicts his sister and niece seated at an informal kitchen table adorned by a bowl of figs. The composition is reminiscent of the seventeenth century Dutch genre paintings that combined still-lives with portraiture. But Bonnard uses a quintessentially modern technique of rapid brushstrokes with soft grays, pinks, browns, blues, and buttery yellow tones, giving the work a warm harmony. He also deliberately places the light source diagonally across the work so that it streams over the child’s face and into the foreground, drawing the viewer’s focus to the face of the little girl. Monroe Wheeler writes that Bonnard “never imaged a picture in the abstract, but, on the other hand, he wanted the texture and substance of every square inch of his painting as such to be strong and sumptuous” (James Thrall Soby, James Elliott, and Monroe Wheeler, Bonnard and his Environment, (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1964, p. 19).
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