Pierre BONNARD | Decorative panel: water games (The voyage) [Panneau décoratif: jeux d'eaux (Le voyage)]

France 1867 – 1947

Decorative panel: water games (The voyage)
[Panneau décoratif: jeux d'eaux (Le voyage)]
oil on canvas
canvas 248.5 (h) x 298.5 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Purchased with the assistance of the Fonds du Patrimoine 1996
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

This richly decorated canvas depicts a fantasy world set around a rippling sea. Mythical figures cling to rocks in the foreground while an intrigued group of figures watch from the deck of a large boat. A man in Oriental costume looks on from a strange, golden island. The tree he sits under is laden with oranges.

Pierre Bonnard’s friend, Misia, was also his muse and patron. In the summer of 1906 the artist accompanied Misia and her new husband, the millionaire press baron Alfred Edwards, on a pleasure trip on their yacht. Misia had met Bonnard during her previous marriage when she encountered many of the modern artists, musicians and writers of Paris. This painting and the adjacent canvas are two of four panels commissioned by Misia and Alfred Edwards for their dining room in Paris.

The decorative border filled with cavorting monkeys and magpies strewn with pearls references the demise of Misia’s marriage to Alfred Edwards. He left Misia for a new lover who was a young actress. Magpies are noted as thieves of shiny objects and their depiction here relates to a confrontation Misia had with her rival who asked for strings of pearls. The monkeys, often thought of as lewd and ugly, refer to the antics of her ex-husband.

The four panels were displayed at the Autumn Salon in 1910 where they received favourable reviews. They were then displayed in Misia’s home on Christmas Day 1910, five years after they were originally commissioned.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From audio tour Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay