Pierre Bonnard

Nude in the Bath and Small Dog, 1941-46
Oil on Canvas 122 x 151 cm
Tate Gallery 1998

I was tempted to write about Indolence, a nude from 1898 that has a definite feel of ennui. However, I chose instead this late painting of his wife Marthe entombed in the bath at their home Le Bosquet. She died in 1942, aged 75.

I find it a very melancholic work and the sense of loss he felt, is heightened by the fact that even in her sixties he is still painting Marthe as the young woman he had met aged 16. We see her, unobserved from above and behind her shoulder. The small dog on a mat gazes out of the painting at the viewer and symbolising fidelity even after she is gone.

Bonnard Nude in Bath.jpg

Bonnard delighted in observing Marthe without being seen and drew her constantly. There are dozens of drawings in his sketchbooks and diaries of Marthe in the bathtub. The subject is fairly central in both planes. Perspective is indicative of space rather than an accurate portrayal and gives a certain dream like quality to the painting.

In this painting the dazzling array of colours, predominantly blue and gold make the bathroom shimmer with light. A collection of sweet wrappers (seen in photos of his studio by Brassai and Henri Cartier Bresson) served as the model for this light reflecting off the tiles.

The very diverse handling of the paint in this piece contributes to its interest for me. Some areas of the paint still look wet, a lot of medium enhances the transparency and contrasts with drier areas such as the curtain on the left. The brushwork is typically nervously dabbed and only makes sense from a distance. Close up it is just paint!


©blackdog 2009