- Pierre Bonnard
Faïence Normande (Le Pot de Rouen)
Signed Bonnard (lower right)
Oil on canvas
Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired from the artist in 1910)
L’Art Moderne (Bernheim-Jeune), Lucerne
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner in 1946
London, Reid & Lefevre, Pierre Bonnard, 1935, no. 14
Jean & Henry Dauberville, Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre de Pierre Bonnard, vol. II, Paris, 1968, no. 577, illustrated p. 177
Bonnard painted Faïence Normande, also known as Le Pot de Rouen, around the time that he rented a cottage in St. Tropez in the summer of 1910. The setting is a room either in that house or in the rustic home he kept along the Seine called ‘My Gypsy Caravan’ (Ma Roulotte), where he painted three large decorative panels in the beginning of 1910 for Misia Natanson. Both locations were surrounded by wonderful gardens (see fig. 1), and in his interior scenes from these years the artist often provided a view of the outdoors through an open window (see fig. 2). But in the entirely enclosed space depicted in the present work, Bonnard makes reference to the natural world by calling attention to certain objects in the room. On the background wall hang several of his recent landscapes, and in the center of the composition is a painted ceramic pitcher filled with local wildflowers. This piece of Norman crockery would appear in several of his still-lifes in years to come, both as an element in a larger composition and by itself (see fig. 3).
The still-lifes and interior scenes that Bonnard painted in the years before the war show his interest in the presentation of domestic space. His Nabis compositions from the 1890s had expressed similar stylistic concerns, but by the 20th century the artist had traded in the dimly-lit look of those pictures for compositions filled with warm and sensual color. Bonnard’s pictorial perspective also achieves new levels of sophistication. In Faïence Normande, he combines a realistic approach with a radical, almost Cubist, presentation of the objects in the room. Two of the most visually challenging features here are the abrupt cropping of the chair and the position of the table that appears to be leaning towards the right of the composition. The scene is depicted from above, as if Bonnard has just walked into this room, with bric-a-brac strewn across the table, and decided on the spot to paint what he sees.
As is the case for many of Bonnard’s best interior scenes, this picture requires the viewer to take time to look at the composition and make sense of the spatial relationships of all of its elements. John Elderfield has written about the necessity to examine Bonnard’s pictures carefully, allowing oneself time to "savour" and enjoy the spectacle: “Bonnard would say that, first and foremost, he sought to paint the savour of things, to recover their savour. This is his Chardin side. He requires that a painting be slowly absorbed, be savoured, so that its surprises well up, one after another, into the field of perception and thereby articulate the original seductive vision in its performative representation by the beholder” (Sarah Whitfield and John Elderfield, Bonnard (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, pp. 47-48).
Around the same time that Bonnard completed this work, Matisse was focusing his attention in a similar fashion with his paintings of the interior of his studio (see fig. 4). Both Matisse and Bonnard drew much inspiration from the brilliant light and colors of the south of France, where the two lived and worked during the best years of their careers. Elderfield discusses the similarities of these artists’ interior scenes and the sensuality inherent in their work: “Matisse and Bonnard do not only cause intended workings of visual perception to be represented for the beholder, they also cause them to serve a representational purpose. But they are able to do this only because they allow the painting’s own sensational visual character to be noticed” (ibid. p. 35).
Fig. 1, Pierre Bonnard in his garden in the south of France, circa 1945. Photograph Aimé Maeght
Fig. 2, Pierre Bonnard, Les pois de senteur, 1912, oil on canvas, Collection Villa Flora Winterthur
Fig. 3, Pierre Bonnard, Coquelicots et renoncules, 1922, oil on canvas, Kunstmuseum Winterthur
Fig. 4, Henri Matisse, Nature morte au pot d’étain, 1910, oil on canvas, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg