Lot 9
  • 9

PIERRE BONNARD | Femme se déshabillant

1,500,000 - 2,500,000 USD
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  • Pierre Bonnard
  • Femme se déshabillant
  • Signed Bonnard (upper right)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 43 3/4 by 22 1/4 in.
  • 111 by 56.6 cm
  • Painted circa 1908 and reworked circa 1930.


Estate of the artist, France

Galerie Wildenstein, Paris 

Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired by 1965)

Acquired from the above in 1977


Paris, Bernheim-Jeune, Bonnard, 1909, no. 7 (titled La Chemise quittée)

Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Bonnard, 1966, no. 29, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Milan, Galerie Il Milione, Bonnard, 1967, no. 8 

Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum, Pierre Bonnard, 1967, no. 63, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Tel Aviv, Musée de Tel Aviv, French Masters of the 20th Century, 1971, no. 3, illustrated in the catalogue

Basel, Fondation Beyeler, The Other Collection: Homage to Ernst and Hildy Beyeler, 2007-08, n.n., illustrated in the catalogue


Gustave Coquiot, Bonnard, Paris, 1922, p. 57 (titled La Chemise quittée)

Jean & Henry Dauberville, Bonnard, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, vol. II, Paris, 1965, no. 483, illustrated in earlier and current states p. 103

Catalogue Note

A work of impressive scale, Bonnard’s Femme se déshabillant seems to capture his subject unaware, as if glimpsed by a camera at just the moment she’s stepped out of her underclothes. The woman, who still grasps her slip in one hand, glances upward, interrupted yet seemingly unperturbed by her onlooker. Such fleeting scenes abound in Bonnard’s oeuvre, documenting his daily life and enduring love for his constant muse and companion, Marthe de Méligny. Marthe, who served as his primary model for decades, would dominate the latter part of his interior scenes, often portrayed just before, during or after her frequent baths. As his favored subject, Marthe figured in much of Bonnard’s photography; his snapshots centering around quiet moments at home; shared meals with friends, bathing scenes of Marthe, and a suite of nudes taken in the couple’s garden at Montval which would serve as studies for Bonnard’s illustrations. While the early twentieth century witnessed the new medium’s shift from artist’s tool to stand-alone artform, Bonnard never considered himself a serious photographer, though his images captured the same compositional awareness and sense of decorative harmony as found in his paintings. Between the images taken with his beloved pocket Kodak, and the devout attention paid to Marthe, Bonnard built up a wealth of physical and mental images upon which he’d draw for his larger studio compositions. A keen observer of daily life and quotidian ritual, Bonnard preferred to paint from sketches, memory and imagination rather than directly from life; as he once stated, “I have all my subjects at hand. I go and look at them. I take notes. And then I go home. And before I start painting I reflect, I dream” (quoted in Bonnard (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1998, pp. 9 & 30).

While his reverie-inspired approach would remain consistent throughout his oeuvre, Bonnard reached a turning point in 1909, when he spent the summer at the house of his friend and fellow painter Henri Manguin in St. Tropez. From this time onward, the artist, like so many of his colleagues, would be captivated by the effect of the Mediterranean light; “It was like something out of the Arabian Nights,” Bonnard remarked, “The sea, the yellow walls, the reflections as full of color as the light” (quoted in Pierre Bonnard, Painting Arcadia (exhibition catalogue), Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 2015, p. 314). By the time Bonnard and Marthe relocated permanently to Le Cannet in 1927, the artist’s work had already begun to capture the sublime liveliness and wealth of color of his environs (see fig. 1). The shimmering play of light and ethereal pigment choice inspired by the Mediterranean sun permeated all subjects, even the walled interiors of works like Femme se déshabillant.

First painted circa 1908 and enlivened by the artist circa 1930, Femme se déshabillant stands as an epitomal example of the artist’s late interiors, with Marthe as model set within a dreamy, almost aqueous background suffuse with light and shifting color. It is likely the fresh inspiration brought about by Bonnard’s move to the south of France, as well as his enduring quest to fully see his subjects, which led him to frequently return to paintings years later, perfecting his earlier canvasses and infusing them with light. The presence of thresholds—which often take the form of obscured windows and mirrors and which enigmatize Bonnard’s compositions—here compress the plane, bringing the subject closer to the fore and leaving but a narrow sliver of doorway at left through which to pass. Swathes of gold and pink in the figure’s right arm and leg contrast against the bright blues and dusty purples of the adjacent walls, and draw her nearer to the viewer, as if Bonnard himself were eliciting the attention of his wife.

The shimmering harmonies and dynamic color planes of Bonnard’s late oeuvre anticipate contemporary works by artists like Richard Diebenkorn, the California-based painter whose abstract works stem from an intensive study of Modern masters like Bonnard and embody the French painter’s reverence for light and a similar synthesis of a lifetime’s observation (see fig. 2). Bonnard’s timeless nudes and pursuit of the ephemeral also finds resonance in the recent works of another California-based painter, Laura Krifka (see fig. 3). Krikfa’s psychologically-charged canvasses are inspired by the temporality of photography; her carefully constructed compositions subtly challenging the viewer’s perception—just as Bonnard’s in the previous century.