'Bonnard was essentially a colorist. He devoted his main creative energies to wedding his sensations of color from nature to those from paint itself – sensations which he said thrilled and even bewildered him.'
Le Petit déjeuner, radiateur is one of the masterpieces of Bonnard's mature period, and indeed Bonnard considered his Fenêtres ouvertes (French windows) series to be amongst his finest compositions. It is a fascinating example of his domestic interiors carefully blended into an exterior scene. The theme of la vie bourgeoise preoccupied Bonnard from the time of his earlier intimiste scenes of the 1890s, right until the end of his career. His interiors are dominated by his wife Marthe, and in the present composition she is depicted drinking her morning coffee at a breakfast table at the couple's home in Le Cannet. Bonnard himself is reflected in the mirror behind Marthe, seated at the opposite side of the table. The interior with the characteristic radiator is the Petit Salon on the first floor of Bonnard's villa 'Le Bosquet' in Le Cannet (fig. 1), which he bought in 1925. Situated near Cannes, on the Côte d'Azur, the house was surrounded by lush vegetation that could be seen through the windows.
Both the interior and exterior of the villa provided the artist with a constant source of inspiration, resulting in powerful, boldly coloured compositions. As Jörg Zutter wrote: 'By 1931 Le Bosquet was Bonnard's favourite place to work and in 1939 it became the couple's permanent home. The house and its surroundings provided an ideal work environment for the artist, who continued to paint studies of Marthe, often standing in the bathroom or lying in the tub. He also painted still lifes, self-portraits, interiors and the views onto the countryside from different windows and doors [figs. 3 & 4]' (J. Zutter in Pierre Bonnard: Observing Nature (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2003, p. 61).
In Le Petit déjeuner, radiateur a warm Mediterranean light falls through the open French window, bathing the entire scene in the morning sunshine, and heightening the effect of a jewel-like, iridescent surface. The light entering the room creates a link between the interior and the exterior, bringing together a prosaic scene of everyday life with the timeless beauty of nature. Bonnard took joy in depicting both worlds: the quiet domesticity of his wife and muse, and the vibrant blue tones of the sky and the Mediterranean visible through the window. Structurally, the window provides the focal point of the composition, with Marthe and Bonnard occupying the foreground to the right. The interior to the left is more spacious, its almost abstract treatment of pure colour anticipating Rothko's painting. The accentuated verticals of the window, the balcony railings and the radiator to the left add to the airy quality of the interior.
Many artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century found in the Mediterranean light an exciting source of painterly stimulus. Like Monet, Cézanne and the Fauve painters, Bonnard's boldest use of colour was inspired by a particular intensity of light in this region, to which he often returned. A group of interiors painted at 'Le Bosquet' and closely related to the present work (fig. 4) were exhibited at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in 1933. Exhilarated by the exhibition, Paul Signac wrote to Bonnard: 'Prodigious. The unexpectedness, the rarity, the novelty. I assure you, my dear Bonnard, that not since 1880 when I "discovered" Claude Monet, have I experienced such a strong artistic emotion. [...] What a lesson, what encouragement' (quoted in Bonnard at Le Bosquet (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London & Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, 1994, p, 12).
Throughout his career, Bonnard depicted his wife in a domestic setting, occupied by a daily routine such as eating, reading, bathing or drying herself after a bath. Bonnard met Marthe de Méligny (née Maria Boursin) in 1893, when she was a fashionable young Parisian shop girl, and married her in 1925. Discussing Bonnard's portrayals of Marthe, Sarah Whitfield wrote: 'Marthe is almost always seen in her own domestic surroundings, and as an integral part of those surroundings. [...] In a sense many of these works are variations on the theme of the artist and his model as well as on the double portrait. This is the case even when Bonnard is not visible. [...] We are always made acutely aware that whatever the subject of the painting – a nude, a still life, a landscape – what we are being asked to witness (and to participate in) is the process of looking. But it is in the paintings of Marthe above all that we find Bonnard portraying himself as the ever-attentive, watchful presence' (S. Whitfield, 'Fragments of Identical World', in Bonnard (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1998, p. 17). Bonnard himself once procclaimed: 'Ce qu'il y a de mieux dans les musées, ce sont les fenêtres'.
Fig. 1, The sitting room of Bonnard's villa 'Le Bosquet' at Le Cannet. Photographed by Denise Demarziani
Fig. 2, Pierre Bonnard, Marthe dans le petit salon, circa 1938, pencil on paper, Private Collection
Fig. 3, Pierre Bonnard, La Fenêtre, 1925, oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London
Fig. 4, Pierre Bonnard, Intérieur blanc (Le Cannet), 1932, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Grenoble
This work has been requested for the exhibition Bonnard au Cannet. Dans la lumière de la Méditerranée, to be held at the Musée Bonnard, Le Cannet from June to September 2011.
Oil on canvas
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Pierre Bonnard, 1965, no. 7, illustrated in colour in the catalogue and on the catalogue cover
Marseille, Bonnard, 1967, no. 30, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Bonnard, 1978, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Lausanne, Fondation de l'Hermitage, Pierre Bonnard, 1991, no. 64, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Nice, Musée Matisse, Matisse, Bonnard, une amitié, 1996
72 by 84cm. 28 3/8 by 33in.
Jean & Henry Dauberville, Bonnard, catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, Paris, 1973, vol. III, no. 1455, illustrated p. 359
Estate of the artist
Thence by descent to the present owner
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