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Pierre (1867) Bonnard (1867 - 1947)

Lot 4: Pierre Bonnard , NATURE MORTE AU MELON


May 8, 2007
New York, NY, US

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Painted in 1941. Signed Bonnard (lower right) Oil on canvas


measurements 20 1/8 by 24 3/8 in. alternate measurements 51 by 62 cm


London, Tate Gallery; New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Bonnard, 1998, no. 84 (as dating from 1941)


Galerie Pierre Colle, Paris (acquired from the artist) Private Collection, Paris (by descent from the above and sold: Sotheby's, New York, November 5, 2003, lot 11)Acquired at the above sale by the previous owner


Bonnard painted this vibrant still-life in 1941 while living in Le Cannet during the war. This subject had occupied a large part of the artist's oeuvre over the course of his career, but in his later pictures, his approach to these compositions is much more experimental.

Even in the very early intimiste paintings of the 1890s, Bonnard had shown how the tightly circumscribed space of a tablecloth could be made to seem as expansive and limitless as landscape. Here, the fruit, bowls and plates are mostly assembled in the background, while the foreground is dominated by the red felt on top of the table.

The background of the composition seems to fall out of focus, as if our eye were being directed towards the bowl of peaches in the center of the composition. The almost tremulous quality of Bonnard's vision in the last years, so movingly evident in this work, depends upon his heightened powers of perception, his fidelity to an experience both mobile and variable. Very often, as John Elderfield has recently pointed out, there is a blur that occurs near the center of Bonnard's composition, mimicking the eye's ability to focus on particular objects while obscuring others in the same line of sight: "A depiction of retinal blur will ... puzzle the eye which, having been stimulated into unproductive accommodation, will first continue to accommodate (like searching for something under obsure circumstances, something distant from the eye, or in shadow, or irradiating, or disintegrating....) until search for the signification in the 'void' overleads or frustrates the perceptual system and, in a reversal of tunnel vision, turns attention to the periphery, being egged on by sight of (previously occluded) peripheral elements. Then the center will call for attention again..." (John Elderfield, "Seeing Bonnard," Bonnard (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998-99, p. 39).

Fig. 1, Photograph of the artist's studio, circa 1937

Fig. 2, A still life set up on a table-top in Bonnard's studio. Photograph by Brassai.

Fig. 3, Pierre Bonnard, Coupe et Corbeille de fruits, 1944, oil on canvas, Private Collection

Fig. 4, Paul Cézanne, Nature Morte: Les grosses pommes, 1890-94, oil on canvas, Sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 11, 1993, lot 17

Fig. 5, Bonnard at work in his studio. Photograph by Brassai

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