In the summer of 1909, Bonnard worked for the first time on the Mediterranean coast — at St Tropez. He was following the example of other painters of his generation — Paul Signac, Henri Matisse, Henri Manguin, Albert Marquet — whose art had been influenced by the Mediterranean light and environment of the South of France. The discovery of this radiant light and luminous colour, so different from northern Europe, was a key experience for Bonnard and he returned to this region year after year, living there from 1939.
While Bonnard continued to work and exhibit in Paris, he travelled abroad and spent long periods in Vernonnet and northern France. Then in 1926 he bought a house in Le Cannet, on the Côte d’Azur not far from Cannes and Nice, where his friend Matisse lived. By 1931 the house at Le Cannet, called Le Bosquet (The Grove), was Bonnard’s favourite place to work. In 1939 it became his permanent home from which he seldom travelled. He produced more than 200 paintings and dozens of drawings at Le Cannet. — studies of Marthe, often standing in the bathroom or lying in the tub; still lifes; self-portraits; interiors; and views onto the countryside from various windows and doors.
Le Cannet was crucial to the evolution of Bonnard’s notion of landscape. In March 1935 he confided to his friend Edouard Vuillard:
I have become a landscape painter … because I have acquired the soul of a landscape painter and have begun to get rid of the picturesque, the aesthetic, and other conventions that have poisoned me.
The acts of creation became longer and longer towards the end of Bonnard’s life, not only because of his self-critical attitude but also because of the political circumstances of occupied France during World War II, which led to his virtual exile in Le Cannet where he became quite introverted. If there is one motif that expresses Bonnard’s reclusive situation in an exemplary way it is the small tiled bathroom at Le Bosquet, with Marthe lying stretched out or kneeling in the tub, as if captured, exposed to the play of light and reflected colour that transforms the space into a place of mysterious regeneration and recreation.
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The Pierre Bonnard works on this page are reproduced with the permission of|
ADAGP, Paris and VISCOPY Ltd, Sydney 2003.