Life on Parisian streets fascinated Bonnard. He often recorded in quick sketches life around him- intimate vignettes of mothers and babies, a small child with a black dog, women with trays of cherries or umbrellas, seated at tables chatting over coffee. Bonnard seldom painted from real life, preferring to use drawings to stimulate remembered images. Here he is recording gestures, postures and relationships that he may use later in a more finished work.
He observed everything, noting the ‘adventures of the optic nerve’ with his camera, and in his diary and on the pieces of paper that he always carried with him. But when it came to painting, ‘Even his portraits were done in the absence of the model’ Defending this unusual method of work, Bonnard explained that having the actual subject in front of him would distract him from his work.
The composition has no focal point, the eye undulates around the edges and into the centre. In common with many of Bonnard’s composition there is a sense of enclosure. There is no horizon line, no rational illusion of space. Activity takes place out of the corner of the eye and often out of scale. Look at the figures in the bottom left and right hand corners and the women at the top of the painting.
In a painting like this it is possible to see how Bonnard worked. He first used a brush to describe a form with a fluid line, to capture a gesture. Paint is then applied in a variety of ways in layers. Sometimes he uses dots and scumbles to define texture, sometimes lines to make patterns. He was a slow painter often adding paint to images that had even left his possession, however in this large painting he has stopped before all the canvas has been covered.