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Pierre Bonnard - Matinée à Arcachon

Pierre Bonnard

Matinée à Arcachon

Oil on canvas: 21.7(h) x 25.7(w) in / 55.2(h) x 65.4(w) cm
Signed lower right: Bonnard

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Fontenay-aux-Roses 1867-1947 Cannet, Alpes-Maritimes

Ref: CA 123


Matinée à Arcachon


Signed lower right: Bonnard

Oil on canvas: 21 ¾ x 25 ¾ in / 55.2 x 65.4 cm

Frame size: 29 x 33 in / 73.7 x 83.8 cm

In a Louis XIV style carved and gilded frame


Painted circa 1930





Private collection, acquired from the artist in 1933; by descent to a private collection, Switzerland Galerie Romer, Zurich; from which acquired by a private collector, UK



Paris, Bernheim-Jeune, Œuvres récentes de Bonnard, 15th-23rd June 1933, no.23 Zurich, Kunsthaus, Pierre Bonnard, 6th June-24th July 1949, no.107 Wolfsburg, Stadthalle Wolfsburg, Französische Malerei, 8th April-31st May 1961, no.6 Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Bonnard, 1966, no.34 (as La voile blanche) Lausanne, Fondation de L’Hermitage, De Cézanne à Picasso, dans les collections romandes, 1985, no.9, illus. in colour Saint-Tropez, Musée de l’Annonciade, Lumière et couleurs: Pierre Bonnard à Saint-Tropez, 1998 Lausanne, Fondation de L’Hermitage, Pierre Bonnard, 7th June-13th October 1991, illus. in colour (as dating from 1932)



Jean and Henry Dauberville, Bonnard: Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint 1920-1939, Paris 1973, vol. III, p.343, no.1431, illus.



Pierre Bonnard was a northerner enthralled by the light of the South. He first planned a visit to Arcachon, on the Atlantic coast south-west of Bordeaux, in December 1889, travelling with the composer Claude Terrasse, soon to be his brother-in-law. He wrote to his sister Andrée: ‘I’m bringing my box of pigments; waves of green, blue, and yellow will flow, each in turn. Arcachon: four patches of colour – the dark green of the fir trees, the light green of the sea, the yellow of the sand, and the blue of the sky. One has only to change the sizes of the patches to create twenty different views of Arcachon. This is how I imagine that enchanting land’[1].


Bonnard returned to Arcachon several times between 1920 and 1933. This painting may be a fruit of his six months spent at the Villa Castellamare in the Ville d’Hiver at Arcachon from November 1930. Its near-abstract swathes of pulsating colour epitomise the assurance and wisdom that Bonnard had gained from four decades of responding to nature. Bonnard described painting as ‘a sequence of marks which join together and end up forming the object, the fragment over which the eye wanders without a hitch[2]. He never painted in front of the motif, instead making sketches with colour notes which served as his inspiration in the studio. Unstretched canvases would be tacked to a wall – even a hotel wall – and the composition would proceed almost by magic into a harmony which hovered between representation and poetry.


Bonnard’s art was especially set free by marine subjects. Arcachon sits on a bay closed to the west by the long spit of Cap Ferret, creating a huge mirror of light and colour. Bonnard grades his painting from the sapphire blue of the foreground waves, through paler blue to the violet of the distant hills, hung with dawn-tinged clouds. The southern sky rises up in touches of lilac, cream and mint. White hulls and sails, reduced almost to geometric bursts of radiance, make the blue of the bay more intense. Bonnard presents nature at her most decorative and seductive.








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 developed a strong bond with Vuillard and 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, 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.



[1] Quoted in Washington, DC, The Phillips Collection/Denver Art Museum, Pierre Bonnard Early and Late, 2002-3, p.28.

[2] Quoted in Nicholas Watkins, Bonnard, London 1994, p.134.

Other Works By
Pierre Bonnard:

Pierre Bonnard - Paysage d'automne (environs de Vernon) Pierre Bonnard - Matin bleu ou Petite rivière