Pierre BONNARD | Intimacy (Portrait of Monsieur and Madame Claude Terrasse) [Intimité (Portrait de Monsieur et Madame Claude Terrasse)]

Pierre BONNARD
France 1867 – 1947

Intimacy (Portrait of Monsieur and Madame Claude Terrasse)
[Intimité (Portrait de Monsieur et Madame Claude Terrasse)]
1891
oil on canvas
canvas 38.0 (h) x 36.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Purchased with the assistance of Philippe Meyer through the Foundation for French museums 1992
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

A work in which there are theories is like an object which still has its price tag on it.—Marcel Proust1

The term Intimisme, used from the 1890s to describe the genre scenes produced by Bonnard, Vuillard and others, might have been specifically invented to describe this work. The focus is close, the composition highly cropped, the colour muted, and the pattern intense. Moreover, the two figures are intimates of the artist: Bonnard’s younger sister Andrée, an amateur musician, and her husband Claude Terrasse, a composer and music teacher. In April 1891 Bonnard visited his sister and brother-in-law at the Villa Bach, in Arcachon, and this work may have been conceived there. We may easily imagine him speaking in an aside with Andrée while he painted, with Claude seated nearby, lost in his own thoughts.

In 1891 Bonnard shared a studio with Denis and Vuillard, and exhibited five paintings at the Salon des Indépendants in March. His France-Champagne (designed 1889) was produced as a poster, and he began to devote himself to painting. Like the other Nabis, Bonnard’s work shows the impact of three influences: nineteenth-century Japanese prints, Sérusier’s painting lesson from Gauguin in the Bois d’Amour near Pont-Aven in October 1888, and seeing Gauguin’s work at the Cafe Volpini in Paris in the summer of 1889. Unlike his compatriots, Denis and Sérusier in particular, Bonnard was unaffected by theories of art, declaring that painting was ‘the transcription of the adventures of the optic nerve’.2 From the 1890s he also practised photography, producing small-format negatives using a Kodak camera.

Bonnard’s fascination with patterning—and its possibilities for concealment—is evident in Intimacy. The work contains two figures, and the left hand of a third, holding a pipe; it may be the painter’s, his other hand reserved for the brush. Equally, the hand could be one of our own, a device to lure us into the scene. In the yellow light, surrounded by wisps of smoke from the pipes, the puffs and trails of a cigarette, the figures are not immediately discernible. They and the smoke mingle and merge with the design of the wallpaper, like the rich patterns of an elaborate carpet. As Whitfield points out, the ‘figures are fused in mutual closeness (perhaps listening to music)’, this closeness conveyed in the way in which they are ‘pressed up close to the painter’s eyes, to our eyes, so close that it takes a while for our own vision to adjust, for us to be able to read these pressed-flat forms’.3 This is a telescopic proximity, as if we are zooming in on the scene; the fact that Bonnard has enclosed our view in a painted frame is the painterly equivalent of composing a photograph within the lens.

Lucina Ward

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009

  1. Marcel Proust, ‘VI–Time regained’, In search of lost time, London: Vintage 1996, p. 236, quoted in Sarah Whitfield, ‘Fragments of an identical world’, Bonnard, London: Tate Gallery Publishing 1998, p. 9.
  2. Bonnard’s diary note, 1 February 1934, in Antoine Terrasse, ‘Bonnard’s notes’, in Sasha M. Newman (ed.), Bonnard, New York: Thames and Hudson 1986, p. 69.
  3. Whitfield, p. 10.