- Pierre Bonnard
- Femme sortant du bain
- Stamped Bonnard (upper left)
- Oil on canvas
Estate of the artist
Bowers Collection, Paris
Sale: Sotheby's, London, April 15, 1970, lot 56
R. L. Johnson (acquired at the above sale)
Private Collection, Japan
Acquavella Galleries, New York
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Pierre Bonnard, 1965, no. 8, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Marseille, Musée Cantini, Bonnard, 1967, no. 25, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from circa 1930)
Jean & Henry Dauberville, Pierre Bonnard: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint 1920-1939, vol. 3, Paris, 1973, no. 1337, illustrated p. 274
Bonnard's paintings of the female nude are the most renowned in his oeuvre. The primary model for these canvases was the eccentric Marthe de Meligny, a young woman of elusive origin whom Bonnard met in Paris in 1893 and who would become his wife in 1925. Marthe's obsession with her health, which resulted in elaborate grooming and bathing rituals, afforded him a glimpse into the female world with which so fascinated him.
Bonnard executed portraits of Marthe across multiple media, including photography (fig. 1), but it is his paintings of her that are bathed in luxurious color and built upon compositional complexities that are novel within the Modernist canon. Sarah Whitfield writes, "Bonnard began painting pictures of Marthe washing early on (from the 1900s), rather in the manner of Degas who had made the subject of feminine hygiene his own. The subject of the nude washing herself in a round zinc tub was one Bonnard treated at least a dozen times in the period between 1914 and 1917 [fig. 3]. [These works] are concerned above all with composition, combining Bonnard's favourite device of creating a painting around an empty space, preferably a round void (for which the tub provided the best possible pretext) with his attachment to classical sculpture (the nude crouching in the tub is surely a series of variations on the theme of the Crouching Aphrodite in the Louvre)" (Sarah Whitfield, Bonnard, (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London & The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 28).
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 (fig. 2). For this work, Bonnard chooses a soft palette similar in tone to Degas's delicate medium, but the medium of oil allows for a more clearly defined depiction of the figure. Balancing the composition, Bonnard has combined sensuous color with strongly defined geometry.
The monumental nude seen in the bathroom, as in the present work, was a major recurring theme in Bonnard's work from his early years before 1900 until his death in 1947. Sasha Newman in the catalogue of Bonnard exhibition in Paris, Washington and Dallas in 1984 discusses the early 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 (Dauberville, no. 219), and La Sieste (Dauberville, no. 227), 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, 1984, p. 108).
In the present work, Bonnard has depicted Marthe just after her bath. Considering the rich symbolism of Bonnard's paintings of the nude, John Elderfield has written about the significance of the nude's intense focus on her own body, and the voyeurism inherent in these paintings: 'The self-absorption is, of course, an apartness. But the prolonged, extended, unhurried activity only apparently excludes the beholder, who waits and watches and can imagine closeness amounting to an identification with the never-ageing, painted woman ('He looked after her, feared her, put up with her, loved her,' a common friend wrote: 'her identity almost merged with his in the constant anxiety she caused him.') Not just looked at but looked after, Marthe is supported in these paintings, which are among Bonnard's slowest, their slowness bespeaking the tactile solicitude of the gaze" (J. Elderfield, "Seeing Bonnard", in Bonnard, The Tate gallery, London (exhibition catalogue), 1998, p. 45).