Andr� Ostier, Pierre Bonnard, 1941, silver gelatin photograph (Detail)
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Pierre BONNARD | Nude in Front of the Mantlepiece [Jeune fille nue devant la cheminée ou Nu devant la cheminée]
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France 1867 – 1947
Nude in Front of the Mantlepiece
[Jeune fille nue devant la cheminée ou Nu devant la cheminée]
oil on canvas
118.0 (h) x 49.0 (w) cm
Private collection

This is an extremely vertical painting, reminiscent of a Japanese scroll. Bonnard was always interested in the decorative structures of Japanese woodcuts, the cropped images, the flattened shapes and the intimate and sometimes erotic subject matter. He often painted on unusually shaped canvases, perhaps a hangover from his Nabis days before the end of the century when these artists experimented with a variety of shaped canvases.

The figure’s glowing pink and blue body dramatically bisects the space with her strong diagonal right leg cropped at the toe. She seems transfixed by the appearance of this unseen foot. Her arms hang down, the right parallel with the back leg, the left slightly angled away from the body. The legs create a flat triangle while the torso angled away from the viewer sets up a spatial depth which is transferred through the back of the head to the tipping mirror behind.

The composition contains both stable and unstable elements. The fireplace, the yellow wall and the blue strip on the right hold the composition steady, while the tilted body and angled stripes in the mirror add an ambiguous instability.

The deep colours of the carpet and the fire are repeated on a higher key in the pink and blue of the body. Notice how Bonnard connects the figure with the structures surrounding it to entice the eye to travel from the mirror to the head down the arms, across the leg and up the blue strip on the wall. The reflection in the mirror characteristically suggests elements outside the image.

Bonnard enjoyed a run of successful exhibitions in the interwar years. Dealers began to compete for his work and his reputation spread abroad. However, an increase in prosperity was not reflected in a change in Bonnard’s lifestyle. If anything his horizons contracted as his career developed. Marthe became increasingly difficult; her health declined and in 1925 he was obliged to take her to three different health spas.

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.