Following this new series, My Artwork in Detail this month is ‘ The Large Bathtub‘ by French artist Pierre Bonnard
The Artist : Pierre Bonnard (1867 – 1947)
‘I’m trying to do what I have never done – give the impression one has on entering a room: one sees everything and at the same time nothing’
– Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard was a French painter and printmaker, as well as a founding member of the Post-Impressionist group of avant-garde painters Les Nabis (“prophets” or “seers” of modern art), abandoning three-dimensional modelling in favour of flat colour areas. However, although Bonnard was a member of this group, he was not interested in obscure Symbolist subject matter and was not a mystic.
In the eve of World War II , he was satisfied – even fascinated and delighted by – the intimate domestic scenes around him which often included his wife Marthe de Meligny: Baths, gardens, flowers, women at their toilettes and even dining tables…The external world did not exist! His focus was solely on interpreting emotions and imagination. Because of this, he has been called an “intimist.”
Bonnard also preferred to work from memory, using drawings as a reference, and his paintings are often characterised by a dreamlike quality. His palette of bright, luminous colours makes him one of the leading exponents of modern art.
The Artwork : ‘La Grande Baignoire’ ( Oil on Canvas 94 x 144 cm )
What is this woman doing in her bath?
She is relaxing.
What a trite subject for fine arts! But Bonnard has painted this theme 20 times and he is the first that made the ritual of baths a moment of pleasure and not only hygiene.
What interests him is certainly not grand events but simple subjects which he can transcend with his technique. This familiarity hides great ambitions : the art of painting.
‘ It is not about painting life , but about making a painting alive’ He said.
When most of the impressionists tackle their objects by painting quickly and directly , Bonnard has an idea, thinks, takes notes, dreams and then paints.
Who is this beautiful nymph ?
It is Marthe, his wife.
Since they met in 1893 , she was his model , muse and lover before being officially his wife in 1925. During their 50 years together, Bonnard has painted his wife in every angle and she is his model in more than 400 art pieces.
Whether lying down, in the garden, playing with her cat or on the table, we are here in the silence and intimate bathroom of the couple, in their Cannet villa in the South of France, far from the tumult of Paris.
The Bathroom has windows where light can flow freely and a bathtub in the middle, displaying its size and its extreme modernity at the time.
How old is she?
When Bonnard painted this piece, Marthe was nearly 70 years old. But like always, his strokes reveals a memory of her when they first met at the age of 20.
For him an artwork is timeless, transmuting a present moment to an eternal one.
Why is the bathtub taking so much space?
It is a diving point of view, taken from japanese prints, it cancels all perspective. The floor, the wall and the bath water are all merging , all aligned .
The viewer is submerged in the canvas , the bather seems to dissolve in the water , the mundane scene has somewhat a dreamlike dimension. Bonnard disregards reality, his only concern is what he feels. We are now bordering the abstract.
What is the white form in the top left corner?
It is a window.
Bonnard was dazzled by the light! Note how it radiates everything it touches , creating reflections on the surface of the water, the tub, the tiles..It sparkles , it vibrates, like the painter’s desire for his wife. And drowned among the bursts of warm and cool colours , the flesh of the bather seems to blend into the paint.
What does the blue and yellow spots represent?
The reflection of light against the deep blue mosaic tiles on the ground.
Bonnard is well known for his mastery with colours, he even notes in his scratch book the effect the weather has on light and colours. For him a painting is nothing more than a series of dots that are in sync, therefore he experimented tirelessly different colour combinations to express his feelings, even if some compositions offered a blunt contrast to the viewer.
Realism for Pierre Bonnard was never a concern.
Where can I see more of his works?
In most of the distinguished art museums in the world but The Musée d’Orsay in Paris has currently an exhibit till the 19th of July 2015 .