Andr� Ostier, Pierre Bonnard, 1941, silver gelatin photograph (Detail)
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Pierre BONNARD | The Bowl of Milk [Le Bol de lait]
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France 1867 – 1947
The Bowl of Milk
[Le Bol de lait]
oil on canvas
116.2 (h) x 121.0 (w) cm
Tate, London Bequeathed by Edward Le Bas 1967

This scene takes place in Bonnard’s apartment in Antibes, where he often stayed during the 1910s. The Mediterranean glints through the window. Although he scribbled a drink for the cat on the bottom of the painting this image conveys far more than a woman preparing a meal for a pet. In fact, the mood seems less of a still life inside an apartment and more a presentation of a visionary interior world. This is probably Marthe, who travelled widely with Bonnard during the years of the First World War, especially to the Mediterranean coast and to spa towns, for the sake of her health.

Bonnard was in his early fifties when he painted this psychologically disturbing image. It was a time of growing affluence and commercial success, but his lifestyle did not change. He spent most of his time with Marthe in rural France, looking inwards to his domestic environment. The rooms in which he lived contained his subject matter.

Bonnard was a painter of sentiment as well as place. Each painting begun in the memory of a specific visual experience was transmuted through nostalgia into a depiction of an earthly paradise. He wanted to capture nature, not describe it.

In this work his relationship with Marthe is hinted at. She seems to be cold, remote, unattainable, and yet in complete control. Even the cat has to wait for its milk.

Bonnard wrote about nearness as a component of his vision:

“I stand in a corner of the room, near to this table bathed in sunlight. The eye sees distant masses as having an almost linear aspect, without relief, without depth. But near objects rise up towards it. The sides trail away and these shifts are sometimes rectilinear – for what is distant – sometimes curved — for planes that are near. The vision of distant things is a flat vision. It is the near planes which give the idea of the universe as the human eye sees it, of a universe that is rolling or convex or concave”

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.