PROPERTY FROM AN AMERICAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
102 by 116.5cm.
40 1/8 by 45 7/8 in.
Painted in 1906-07.
signed Bonnard (lower left)
oil on canvas
Gustave Fayet, Paris
M & Mme Philippe Duménil, France
Acquired by the present owner in 1997
Lausanne, Fondation de l'Hermitage, Pierre Bonnard, 1991, no. 77bis, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Bonnard, 1994, no. 32, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Balingen, Stadthalle, L'Eternel féminin: from Renoir to Picasso, 1996, no. 17, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Jean & Henry Dauberville, Bonnard. Catalogue raisonné de l'~uvre peint, Paris, 1974, vol. II, no. 410, illustrated p. 51 (with incorrect measurements)
Michel Terrasse, Bonnard: du dessin au tableau, Paris, 1996, illustrated in colour p. 76
Bonnard's monumental Place Clichy depicts a busy Parisian street near Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement, which was a popular artists' quarter in the early twentieth century. Bonnard and his fellow artist Vuillard, who both lived nearby, took joy in observing and painting the crowded streets around Place Clichy and the bohemian lifestyle of its inhabitants. The present composition is dominated by the elegantly dressed ladies in the foreground, talking as they stroll down the street. Behind them are groups of women with children, dogs playing, a cyclist and a horse-drawn carriage, all captured with a remarkable sense of movement that characterised this bustling square, and that embodies Bonnard's fascination with the energy and the dynamic life of the metropolis. Place Clichy displays a radically modern approach, shifting the focus away from the centre of the composition, towards two groups of figures in the foreground. The positioning of the figures, as if leaving the scope of the picture, suggest a chance momentary glimpse, rather than a carefully staged ensemble. It is this nonchalance of composition, coupled with a refined, masterful execution, that makes this one of Bonnard's most accomplished and arresting street scenes.
In the autumn of 1899 the artist rented a studio and apartment at 65 rue de Douai, near Place Clichy and Place Pigalle, with a view towards Montmartre. Charles Terrasse later recalled Bonnard's studio: 'There were canvases. Easels all around, and in an angle a small table where one would have lunch. The balcony was a place that was particularly attractive. From there one could see so many things. A whole world. The street below was bustling ... agitated like a sea' (C. Terrasse, quoted in Pierre Bonnard: Early and Late (exhibition catalogue), The Phillips Collection, Washington, D. C., 2003, p. 33). In the early years of the twentieth century, Bonnard divided his time between his Paris studio and the countryside in Normandy, where he usually spent the summers, and his art became increasingly polarised between the passing show of urban life, and the intimacy and stillness of the Normandy interiors.
Bonnard's earliest depictions of Parisian streets date from the 1890s (fig. 1), and in 1895 produced an album of lithographs on the theme of the city and its inhabitants, titled Quelques aspects de la vie de Paris. The spectacle of urban modernity provided a colourful source of inspiration, and the artist was fascinated by the variety of subjects it offered, including street vendors, elegant bourgeois ladies, old-fashioned and modern modes of transport, and urban architecture. Returning to this subject throughout his career (figs. 2 & 3), Bonnard's city scenes reflect a certain joie de vivre achieved through the use of bright tones and a strong sense of energy and movement. Although painted on a monumental scale and depicting a busy street scene, the present work retains a certain intimate, familiar note of his earlier intimiste style. Rather than representing an impersonal, alienated environment, he pays particular attention to the people's everyday activities, costume and facial expressions, showing a human aspect of metropolitan life.
Bonnard shared his fascination with the city with a number of Impressionist and post-Impressionist artists, and in choosing this subject matter he drew on the tradition of depicting the busy streets and cafés of the French capital. Gustave Caillebotte (fig. 4), Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro all executed a number of works depicting Parisian boulevards, squares and bridges, usually characterised by a sense of rich and varied life of the city. Gustave Geffroy commented: 'no-one is quicker than Bonnard to seize the look of our Parisian streets, the silhouettes of a passer-by and the patch of colour which stands out in the Metropolitan mist. [He] seizes on all the momentary phenomena of the street, even the most fugitive glances are caught and set down' (G. Geffroy, quoted in Pierre Bonnard (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1996, p. 16).