Lot 405
  • 405

Pierre Bonnard

400,000 - 600,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Pierre Bonnard
  • Danseurs
  • Stamped Bonnard (lower right)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 41 by 41 in.
  • 104 by 104 cm


Estate of the artist, Paris
Galerie Amante, Paris
Private Collection, Switzerland
Sale: Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, April 7, 1976, lot 69
Acquired in December 1985


Jean & Henry Dauberville, Bonnard. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, vol. II, Paris, 1968, no. 692A, illustrated p. 258

Catalogue Note

A rare example of Bonnard's painting on the theme of ballet, Danseurs is a powerful, energetic work conveying the artist's fascination with the Ballets Russes, which he frequented from 1909 onward. It was May of that year that Serge Diaghilev brought the Ballets Russes to Paris, in an attempt to present an interdisciplinary display of progressive Russian art to Western audiences. These performances soon enjoyed great success, and the group returned for several years, introducing outstanding Russian composers, designers, choreographers and dancers to the Parisian public. The first season began with the public dress rehearsal of Le Pavillon d'Armide, the Dances from Prince Igor and Le Festin and included Stravinsky's legendary L'Oiseau de feu, a scene from which Bonnard depicts in the present work.

The two central performers depicted here are Tamara Karsavina (1885-1978) and the celebrated Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), both regular dancers of the Ballets Russes. Nijinsky, who appeared in numerous performances, became famous for his rejection of the conventional forms of classical ballet in favor of free expression. The composer Igor Stravinsky described him as "the most exciting human being... ever seen on the stage" (Igor Stravinsky, Chronicles of My Life, quoted in Charles Spencer, Leon Bakst and the Ballets Russes, London, 1995, p. 94). Karsavina was equally renowned; she performed a leading role in Schéhérazade, the most successful production of the Ballets Russes (see fig. 1).

The costumes depicted here were designed by Leon Bakst, the group’s leading stage and costume designer. With his exotic and flamboyant style, Bakst created a sensation in Parisian artistic circles and became not only Diaghilev's closest collaborator, but also one of the key contributors to the art of the theater, thus establishing the importance of the role of designer. The costume worn by Nijinsky, now in the collection of the Theatre Museum in London, consists of colorful fabrics embroidered with gold silk, pearls and precious stones. Karsavina’s costume was even more elaborate, crowned with an extravagant headgear with bright red feathers. Bakst's daring designs and bright color schemes satisfied the Western audience's thirst for the sensational and were largely responsible for the group's international popularity. After the great success of Schéhérazade, Bakst wrote in a letter to his wife: ''We have done the fit-up for Schéhérazade and it's a great success with artists (Vuillard, Bonnard, Seurat, Blanche and others)" (quoted in Alexander Schouvaloff, Léon Bakst: The Theatre Art, London, 1991, p. 84).

Bakst later discussed his attitude to color and its effect in the theater: "I have a taste for intense colors which contrast with each other rather than a collection of colors which go together. The eye used to be saturated with undisturbed visions, and I have tried to use a more resonant scale. Art is only contrasts" (quoted in ibid., p. 29). Clearly fascinated by this approach to colour and by the dazzling modernity of Le Festin, Bonnard employs a bright palette and quick, spontaneous brushstrokes to convey movement and energy, capturing a unique, fleeting moment of the magic of theatre and dance.