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  • Pierre Bonnard
    Oct 03, 1867 - Jan 23, 1947
  • In Front of Mirror - Pierre Bonnard was a French painter who helped provide a bridge between impressionism and the abstraction explored by post-impressionists. He is known for the bold colors in his work and a fondness for painting elements of everyday life, member of the group of artists called the Nabis and afterward a leader of the Intimists; he is generally regarded as one of the greatest colourists of modern art.
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In Front of Mirror
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  • In Front of Mirror

  • Pierre Bonnard
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    circa 1896
    Oil on board

    Devant la glace is a wonderfully intimate early portrait of Marthe de Méligny (née Boursin), painted in 1896, the same year that the artist was offered a one-man show by Paul Durand-Ruel, an almost unheard of honor for an artist not yet thirty years old. Bonnard first met Marthe in 1893 when she was working as a shop girl in Paris, fooling the artist into thinking she was just sixteen, when she was really twenty-four. A fashionable woman with a taste for colorful high-heeled shoes, she soon became his life-long companion and muse, though they didn’t marry until 1925 after the death of Bonnard’s young mistress Renée Monchaty.

    Annette Vaillant, who knew the couple from childhood, summed up their relationship: “Incandescent will o’the wisp, clinging to Pierre’s shadow, she formed with him that oddly-assorted couple that the passing of time would mark without ageing. He looked after her, feared her, put up with her, loved her: her identity almost merged with his in the anxiety she caused him” (quoted in Belinda Thomson, Bonnard at le Bosquet (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London, 1994, p. 17).

    Marthe appears repeatedly throughout Bonnard’s oeuvre and is almost always presented within, and as an integral component of her domestic setting. The decorative shirt that she wears in the present work echoes the elaborate wallpaper design to the right of the mirror, and nods to his later paintings of Marthe where she becomes so much part of the room that she can almost go unnoticed. Indeed by presenting her face in a mirror reflection, she is – for the depicted moment at least – absorbed by the room, essentially becoming another portrait on the wall.

    At once remote and intimate, Devant la glace is a stunning example of a key Nabis theme: that of the woman depicted in an elaborate interior setting, with the viewer occupying the role of voyeur, a role we are reminded of by the door frame we see her through. Marthe is lost in a private moment, quietly adjusting her blouse and unaware of being watched. This seemingly unremarkable activity is here afforded with the utmost attention. Bonnard was clearly besotted with this woman, interested in her every move, the more quotidian the better. The voyeurism of the present work anticipates the artist’s later exploration of the nude in the bathroom, an interest in the unself-conscious woman in her own domestic space that he shared with Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

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Other paintings by Pierre Bonnard:

Ice Palace
Ice Palace
In a Boat
In a Boat
In Summer
In Summer
In the Bathroom
In the Bathroom
Pierre BonnardPierre Bonnard was a French Post-Impressionist painter remembered for his ability to convey dazzling light with juxtapositions of vibrant color. “What I am after is the first impression—I want to show all one sees on first entering the room—what my eye takes in at first glance,” he said of his work. Born on October 3, 1867 in Fontenay-aux-Roses, France, Bonnard studied law at the Sorbonne, graduating in 1888. During this time, he was also enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts but left to attend the Académie Julian in 1889. At this more open-minded painting academy, Bonnard met Maurice Denis, Paul Sérusier, and Édouard Vuillard, among others. Together with these artists he helped from a group known as the Nabis, who were influenced by Japanese prints and the use of flat areas of color. Early on in his career, Bonnard was better known for his prints and posters than for his paintings. Moving to the South of France in 1910, over the following decades, Bonnard receded from the forefront of the art world, mainly producing tapestry-like paintings of his wife Marthe in their home. Late works of Bonnard, such as The Terrace at Vernonnet (1939), more closely resembled a continuation of Impressionism than other avant-garde styles of the era. Because of this, at the time of his death on January 23, 1947 in Le Cannet, France, the artist’s work had been largely discounted as regressive. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and the Tate Gallery in London, among others.