Lot 43
  • 43

Pierre Bonnard

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
1,575,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Pierre Bonnard
  • Femme nue vue de dos
  • Stamped with the signature Bonnard (lower right)
  • Oil on canvas


Estate of the artist

Bonnard-Terrasse Collection, Paris (by descent from the above)

Wildenstein & Co., New York

Maxwell Cummings, United States (acquired from the above on June 27, 1969 and sold by the Estate: Sotheby’s, London, February 5, 2002, lot 13)

Acquired at the above sale


Jean & Henry Dauberville, Bonnard, Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint 1906-1919, Paris, 1968, vol. II, no. 885, illustrated in the catalogue p. 397 (with incorrect dimensions)

Catalogue Note

Painted in luminous purples, pinks and yellow the present work is a stunning example of Bonnard’s preferred subject, the female nude. Bonnard’s paintings of the female nude are the most renowned within 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. Bonnard executed portraits of Marthe across multiple mediums including photography, but it is his paintings of her that are bathed in luxurious color and build 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. These works are concerned above all with composition, combining Bonnard’s favorite 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” (S. 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. 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).