Andr� Ostier, Pierre Bonnard, 1941, silver gelatin photograph (Detail)
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Pierre BONNARD | Woman with Cat [La femme au chat]
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France 1867 – 1947
Woman with Cat
[La femme au chat]
oil on canvas
78.0 (h) x 77.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The figure seated behind a curved and tilted table strewn with random ambiguous forms is a motif found often in Bonnard’s work. The woman dressed in a dark dress looks down, away from the viewer. The cat with ears flattened and paw upraised interacts more directly. The cream-coloured table divides the painting into two sections, with the darker, richer colours in the background containing the nearly dissolving woman, flanked by two lighter rectangular sections. The fireplace on the right is balanced by a vertical slice on the left in a similar hue.

Note the relationship of circular shapes; the orange in the foreground, the woman’s hand, and her head. Bonnard repeats other round shapes on the table, carefully placed around the perimeter of the painting and near the woman’s hand. He contrasts these curvilinear shapes with a number of angular lines; the vertical lines of the red wall frame the cat and woman. The angle of the cat’s body, straightened foreleg and flattened ears suggests an animation lacking in the stillness of the woman’s body. Her slight lean towards the table and her steadying hand suggest she is waiting for something to happen. Bonnard creates an unstable, slipping quality in the bottom section of the painting by presenting the bowl of grapes from above, while the plate near the woman is on a flatter angle.

It is difficult to establish a strict chronology for Bonnard’s work. He favoured several subjects, especially room interiors, landscapes, portraits, nudes and still lifes, returning to each of these randomly and repeatedly rather than in an orderly progression or series. When Bonnard first visited the Mediterranean in 1909 the light and colour of the region had a marked effect upon his palette. In 1912 he spent the Summer in Grasse in the South of France, however enclosed compositions such as this one could have been painted anywhere.

Article authored by the NGA Education department
Introduction | Gallery | Literature | Chronology | Glossary | Education Kit
The Pierre Bonnard works on this page are reproduced with the permission of
ADAGP, Paris and VISCOPY Ltd, Sydney 2003.