Pierre BONNARD | The man and the woman [L'homme et la femme]

France 1867 – 1947

The man and the woman
[L'homme et la femme]
oil on canvas
canvas 115.0 (h) x 72.5 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Purchase 1948
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Gérard Blot

In Pierre Bonnard’s painting The man and the woman we share an intimate glimpse of the artist and his partner. The woman sits naked on the bed playing with a cat. The light flooding in from the left of the composition accentuates her soft curves and pale skin tones. Most unusually, Bonnard has shown himself undressing behind a screen. This darker side of the room creates cooler skin tones with a warm highlight running along one side of the artist’s body. The angular forms of his arm and legs contrast with the rounder feminine figure in the background.

A two or three-part narrative structure was a feature of Japanese prints. This format influenced the structure of Bonnard’s image with the screen dividing the painting in half vertically. This division also hints at the divide between the masculine and the feminine. Despite these differences in the depiction of the two figures we do not feel a sense of estrangement between the couple. Rather, an atmosphere of relaxed, intimate harmony prevails.

Bonnard’s model is Marthe Boursin, a woman he met in 1893 and married in 1925, nearly 20 years after they began living together. Marthe was Bonnard’s muse and the subject of many of his most enduring works including the painting Sleepy woman on a bed which you can view in this exhibition.

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