Bonnard abandoned a promising career in the law to pursue painting at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts in the early 1890s, where he met Édouard Vuillard, Odilon Redon and Maurice Denis. Together, these artists called themselves the Nabis, and developed an artistic vocabulary that sought to capture the spiritual essence of the mundane. For Vuillard and Bonnard in particular, interior scenes and still lifes became the primary vehicle of experimentation. Although painted over a decade after the dissolution of the Nabis group, the present work nonetheless evokes the powerful Intimist style that Bonnard perfected in the 1890s, while also looking forward to the light-filled domestic scenes that dominated the latter half of his career.
Bonnard’s still lifes allude to two masters of this genre: Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, the eighteenth-century Salon painter whose approach would profoundly influence the trajectory of French painting, and Paul Cézanne, the Post-Impressionist master who inspired an intense following among many of Bonnard’s contemporaries (see fig. 1).
Like Chardin, Bonnard positions the fruit against a dark background, relying on chiaroscuro to direct the viewer’s attention to the subject (see fig. 2). The peaches are stacked in a pyramidal form, a technique evocative of Chardin’s own experimentation with the architecture of individual forms. In a nod to Cézanne, Bonnard adds a flourish of color to the cloth at the canvas’s left edge, which helps frame the vessel holding the fruit. This unorthodox cropping is a hallmark of the Intimist movement.
Bonnard was known to spend time with his subjects, observing them for weeks, months or even years before painting from memory. The artist's command of his imaginative palette is on full display in the present work. The subtle variations of yellows, oranges and purples on the surface of the fruit give them a convincing texture while the nearly abstract depictions of the background and table foreshadows the way Color Field artists would employ planes of color in their canvases.
On the power of Bonnard’s still lifes, Dita Amory writes: “We can read and interpret Bonnard’s still lifes in much the same way we do his figures, as not still at all, but quietly transient. A master of presence, Bonnard transformed discrete, often mundane moments of time...into timeless images… And yet, Bonnard was also a master of absence. We glean from many of the inanimate objects in his interiors a sense of those who have laid the table, moved a plate, or taken a fruit. The possibility of reentry—that someone who is absent will once again intrude into our field of vision, or into our mind’s eye—is always left open” (Dita Amory, “The Present of Objects: Still Life in Bonnard’s Late Paintings,” in Pierre Bonnard, The Late Still Lifes and Interiors (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2009, p. 26).
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