In 1924, Pierre Bonnard’s longstanding partner Marthe had her first exhibition of pastel paintings in the Druet Gallery; she signed herself Marthe Solange. At the end of the year, the couple started renting a villa named La Rêve (‘The Dream’), in Le Cannet, on the Mediterranean coast, close to his patrons and close friends the Hahnlosers. From then on, Bonnard and Marthe were to spend increasing amounts of their time living in Le Cannet, rather than in the north.
Landscape with Mountains from 1924 includes a woman, possibly Marthe, exercising her dogs under the tree at the left. Although there is a loose rhythm in the clouds, Bonnard never developed the more formal rhythms seen in Hodler’s landscapes, for example.
Bonnard painting at least two variations of this view of a Pink Palm at Le Cannet (1924), in which he clearly enjoyed its unusual colour contrasts and the rich textures of its vegetation.
With increasing time spent on the Mediterranean coast, maritime motifs become more frequent in his work from this time. En Bateau, La Promenade en Mer or In a Boat, Promenade at Sea (c 1924) shows three figures who appear to be out for a ‘promenade’ inshore.
Several of the artists who had moved to le Midi were very keen yachtsmen. One of the most dedicated was Paul Signac, shown here on board his yacht, in Signac and his Friends Sailing (1924).
Bonnard’s private life still seems to have been quite turbulent. In Before Dinner (1924), there are two places laid at the table, and two women behind. One at the left has her back towards the other, who stands by the table as if waiting for something to happen. A dog is just emerging from behind the chair at the left, and looks up the standing woman.
In 1925, Pierre Bonnard and Marthe finally married, in a quiet civil ceremony in Paris, in August. None of their friends attended the wedding. Within a month, Bonnard’s former lover Renée Monchaty shot herself in the chest, as she lay in a bath of white roses.
Although Bonnard continued to paint landscapes further to the north, most of his finest, like this View of Cannes from about 1925, were painted on or near the Mediterranean coast, in the special light of le Midi.
Some local harbours were now very popular during the summer, as he shows in Boats at Antibes from 1925.
La Fenêtre (The Window) (1925) gave Bonnard the opportunity to frame a view, presumably from his villa in Le Cannet looking inland, with the verticals from the frame. It’s unclear to whom the name Marie, shown very deliberately on the uppermost book, might refer. Marthe’s real name was Maria Boursin, and Misia’s real name had been Marie Godebska, although by this time Misia was involved with ballet in Paris, and apparently had little or no further contact with Bonnard. He had earlier (c 1897) also illustrated a book with the title of Marie.
La Table (The Table) (1925) presumably shows Marthe eating at a table replete with fruit and other food.
Pink Nude Reflected in a Mirror (c 1925) engages once again in some simple mirror play. Bonnard’s model, probably Marthe, is apparently drying her leg, as she flexes it at the hip.
Bonnard’s best-known nudes of 1925 are those in which his model is still in the bath, most notably Nu dans la baignoire, or Nude in the Bath. The bath is cropped to show just the lower torso and legs of the woman in its water. A second, clothed, person is striding across from the left, its figure cropped extremely to show just the front of the body and legs.
It is thought that the figure on the left is that of the artist, but I cannot make sense of that. He or she appears to be wearing light patterned clothing consisting of a jacket and long skirt, with soft slippers resembling ballet shoes!
This painting is a marked contrast from Bonnard’s recent nudes in returning to intimate scenes of everyday life, with a strongly voyeuristic sense of peering into private life. It is not known whether Bonnard painted this before Renée Monchaty’s suicide in a bath, although his bathing paintings from 1925 onwards are often supposed to refer to her death.
Baignoire (Le Bain) or The Bath (1925) is even more eerie in the light of that suicide, with Marthe lying full-length across the canvas, her skin appearing a ghostly pale blue. Apparently, Marthe had been given medical advice to spend long sessions in the bath, possibly because she was thought to have had tuberculosis.
In February 1926, the Bonnards bought a villa in Le Cannet, which they named Le Bosquet (‘The Grove’). In September and October, Bonnard visited the USA, as a member of the jury for the Carnegie Prize. He toured in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington and New York. Among others, he met the collector Duncan Phillips, who was already becoming his most important patron outside Europe. In November, he visited Monet for the last time prior to the latter’s death the following month. Bonnard attended his interment.
Le Cannet, View from the Pink House (1926) shows the spectacular view which the Bonnards enjoyed from their house in Le Cannet.
I suspect that this painting of The Palm from 1926 was made from the Bonnards’ garden, or nearby. The woman in the foreground, holding up fruit, is pale and ghostly against the dazzling light and colour of the houses behind her.
Bonnard’s painting of The Work Table (1926) reveals little about himself, but in the background there is a dog asleep, a white cat sat bolt upright, and what looks like a small white kitten.
The following year, the Bonnards were to leave Paris altogether, for their villa in Le Cannet.
Guy Cogeval and Isabelle Cahn (2016) Pierre Bonnard, Painting Arcadia, Prestel. ISBN 978 3 791 35524 5.
Gilles Genty and Pierrette Vernon (2006) Bonnard Inédits, Éditions Cercle d’Art (in French). ISBN 978 2 702 20707 9.