La femme à la rose ou Femme dans un intérieur
Oil on canvas: 23.7(h) x 18.9(w) in /
60.3(h) x 47.9(w) cm
Signed lower right: Bonnard
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Fontenay-aux-Roses 1867-1947 Cannet
La femme à la rose ou Femme dans un intérieur
Signed lower right: Bonnard
Oil on canvas: 23 ¾ x 18 ⅞ in / 60.3 x 47.9 cm
Frame size: 32 x 26 ½ in / 81.3 x 67.3 cm
Painted in 1909
Henry Bernstein, Paris;
his sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 8th June 1911, lot 3
Galerie Druet, Paris, purchased from the above sale
Mr and Mrs Edward G Robinson, Beverly Hills, by 1941
M Knoedler & Co., Inc, New York
The Stavros S Niarchos Collection, Europe, purchased from the above in 1957
Richard Green, London, 2001
Private collection, UK
Los Angeles Country Museum, Mr and Mrs Edward G Robinson Collection, June-July 1941
Los Angeles Country Museum/San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, The Gladys Lloyd Robinson and Edward G Robinson Collection, September 1956-January 1957, no.2, illus. (as Woman seated in a studio)
New York, M Knoedler & Co., Inc/Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada/Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, A loan exhibition of paintings and sculpture from the Niarchos Collection, December 1957-April 1958, p.8, no.1, illus. (as Woman seated in a studio)
London, The Tate Gallery, The Niarchos Collection, May-June 1958, p.3, no.1, pl. 61
Athens, National Picture Gallery, The Niarchos Art Collection, August-September
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Sammlung S Niarchos, January-March 1959, no.50
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Bonnard, January-February 1966, no.61
Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Pierre Bonnard-Centenaire de sa naissance, January-April 1967, no.54, illus.
Jean and Henry Dauberville, Bonnard. Catalogue raisonne de l’oeuvre peint, Paris 1968, vol II, no.565, illus.; Bernheim-Jeune photograph no.09752
A shy and quiet man, very far from the Bohemian image of the artist, Bonnard was nevertheless fascinated by the feminine. In 1893 he met his lifelong companion, who called herself Marthe de Méligny, in the bustle of the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris. She became his muse, depicted with the sensual softness of lithography in the dreamlike eroticism of Bonnard’s illustrations to Paul Verlaine’s collection of poems, Parallèlement (1900). Often Marthe is shown in a domestic setting, for example in the famous series of bath scenes. Sometimes she is the baleful keeper of the relationship, who holds all the cards, as in La réussie, 1911 (private collection).
Around 1907-9 Bonnard made a number of paintings of young women in interiors wearing the fashionable, feathered ‘picture hats’ of that era. The same purple-blue hat, dress and fur boa appear in Jeune fille à l’estampe Japonaise, 1907 (private collection). Although he used several models, the neat profile and rounded face in La femme à la rose suggest his constant muse, Marthe. In the period following 1906 Bonnard’s work showed a growing affinity with the paintings of Degas. ‘The use of a close-in and frequently raised perspective, the cropped and oddly angled views, and the concentration on habitual, nonacademic, unselfconscious gesture linked [Bonnard and Degas] in their search for an intimacy and freshness of presentation’.
Nicholas Watkins notes that ‘in 1907-8 Bonnard entered his maturity as a painter’. In La femme à la rose, painted in 1909, Bonnard renders the subject of his earlier intimiste paintings in a more abstracted manner. He creates spatial ambiguities by repeating the rectangular shapes of the rug, chairs, and paintings and flattening the angle of perspective. The eye is led around the painting through a bridge of colour amid the softly-pulsing greys and lilacs of the studio floor and walls: from the vivid green and orange rug, through the purple-blue dress and hat, to the pink shawl draped on the day bed, to the painting above. Colour becomes composition, with the brilliant accent of the red rose at the centre. It draws attention to ‘Marthe’ and perhaps to Bonnard’s complex passion for her, although not in an overt, narrative way. As so often in Bonnard’s paintings, the woman is serenely self-absorbed, the opposite of coquettish.
On the studio wall, a mirror reflects not the woman on the chaise longue, but an unseen element which has colours that echo the intimiste painting on the back wall. Watkins comments that ‘like Degas, Bonnard began to employ mirrors to add further dimensions to a painting, expanding the space, breaking down the barrier between art and life, both absorbing and rejecting the spectator, suggesting different viewpoints and readings’. By placing a painting within a painting, Bonnard also playfully refers to an earlier phase of his career while presenting us with the ambiguities of his current vision.
Note on the provenance
This painting has been in a number of distinguished collections, including that of the actor Edward G Robinson (1893-1973), a star of the Golden Age of Hollywood best known for his roles in gangster movies such as Little Caesar (1931) and Key Largo (1948). From 1957 it was in the collection of the Greek shipping magnate Stavros S Niarchos (1909-1996).
Fontenay-aux-Roses 1867-1947 Cannet, Alpes-Maritimes
Born in a Paris suburb in 1867, Pierre Bonnard was the son of a bureau chief in the Ministry of War who encouraged his son to pursue a classical education followed by a career as a barrister. In 1885 Bonnard enrolled in law school and received his degree in 1888. Throughout his law studies he attended art classes at the Académie Julian and was accepted at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. It was during this period that he met a remarkable group of young artists, including Paul Sérusier, Maurice Denis and Edouard Vuillard, who became lifelong friends.
Bonnard soon developed a strong bond with Vuillard and readily joined the group of artists, led by Sérusier, who called themselved the Nabis (‘prophets’ in Hebrew), who were particularly influenced by Paul Gauguin and whose main aim was to develop the ideals of Impressionism. The group caused considerable outrage in Paris and during the Exposition Universelle in 1889 they controversially showed their work at the exhibition organised by Gauguin at the Café Volpini near the newly erected Eiffel Tower.
By the age of twenty-two Bonnard was still a practising lawyer and by the end of 1889 became a licensed attorney. He soon became disillusioned by his daily routine in the Paris law courts and in 1891, after receiving one hundred francs from France-Champagne for a poster commission, Bonnard chose to give up law completely to concentrate on his artistic career. That same year he submitted his first entries to the Salon des Indépendants which were well received by the critics; he continued to be an active and committed member of the Nabis. Bonnard’s early works have a clear palette and bold execution which are clearly influenced by the Symbolist poetry of Mallarmé and the teachings of Gauguin and Sérusier.
In 1893 Bonnard met his lifelong companion, the beautiful Marie Boursin, whom he encountered on the boulevard Haussmann in Paris when she introduced herself as sixteen-year-old Marthe de Méligny, the daughter of aristocratic Italian parents. It was not until after their marriage some thirty years later that Bonnard discovered her real identity: she was a farmer’s daughter from the Midi and had been twenty-four at their first meeting. Described as ‘voluptuous’ and ‘almost risqué’, Marthe became central to Bonnard’s work, appearing in one hundred and fifty paintings and over seven hundred sketches.
By 1900 Bonnard had been working with the Nabis for nearly a decade and felt that he needed more independence to develop his personal style. He began to travel extensively within France and abroad, visiting Belgium and Holland in 1907, Italy in 1910 and 1922, England, Spain, Algeria, Tunisia and America in 1926, widening his experience and expanding his horizons. In 1909 he joined Henri Matisse in a painting expedition to the South of France which had a remarkable effect on the future of his work. Seduced by the bright sunlight and bold colours of the Mediterranean, he discovered an overwhelming passion for colour which from this moment became of primary importance in his art. In 1912 Bonnard bought a house in Vernon in the Eure region, near Monet’s beloved Giverny, where he and Marthe lived most of the year, only escaping to the warmth of the Côte d’Azur in winter. Bonnard continued to paint sunlit interiors peopled by his family and friends and his works developed into intimate portrayals of his personal life. In 1931 he settled permanently in the villa at Le Cannet, which he had purchased in 1926. This became the subject of his glorious golden canvases and he continued to paint there until his death in 1947.
The work of Pierre Bonnard is represented in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Pushkin Museum, Moscow; the Hermitage, St Petersberg; Tate Modern and the National Gallery, London; the Kunsthaus, Zurich and Neue Pinakothek, Munich.
 See Nicholas Watkins, Bonnard, 1994, repr. 2002, p.98, illus. in colour.
 SA Nash, ‘Tradition revised: some sources in late Bonnard’ in Bonnard: The Late Paintings, exh. cat. Phillips Collection, Washington DC, 1984, p.20.
 Watkins op. cit., p.109.
 Ibid., p.109.