Fleurs Rouges, 1927
Mme. David-Weill, Paris.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, acquired from the above in 1928.
Herscher Publishers, Paris, acquired from the above.
Alfred Richet, Paris.
Wildenstein & Co., New York.
Mrs. Clive Runnells, Chicago.
The Art Institute of Chicago, bequeathed by the above in 1959;
Anon. Sale; Sotheby’s, New York, 17 May 1990, lot 19.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J & H. Dauberville, Bonnard: Catalogue Raisonné de l’œuvre peint 1920 – 1939, Vol. III, Paris, 1973, no. 1378, (illus. p. 305).
M. Terrasse, Bonnard at Le Cannet, New York, 1988, p. 125.
M. Terrasse, Bonnard: Du Dessin au Tableau, Paris, 1996, p. 159 (illus.)
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Bonnard, oeuvres récentes, Oct. – Nov. 1927.
In February 1927, Bonnard and his wife Marthe moved to Le Bosquet, a modest villa overlooking the bay of Cannes that would be the artist’s home – and his most profound and enduring source of creative inspiration – for the last two decades of his life. In the quiet, well-trodden rooms of Le Bosquet, Bonnard discovered infinite possibilities; he spent all his waking hours waiting to be struck by an image with the potential to become a painting. In the spacious dining room on the ground floor, the intimate sitting room upstairs, or the glittering jewel-chamber of a bathroom where Marthe lingered in the tub, Bonnard made notes in his journal of colour patterns and fleeting observations that sparked his impulse to begin a canvas. He then painted from memory back in his studio, on lengths of canvas tacked directly to the wall.
“Paintings begun in the memory of a visual experience were transformed through colour into a rich, immensely varied surface made up of a tapestry of brushstrokes, glazes, scumbles, impasto, highlights, and pentimenti,” writes Nicholas Watkins. “Objects were not so much painted as felt into shape within the surface over a long period. ‘The principal subject is the surface,’ Bonnard maintained, ‘which has its color, its laws over and above those of objects. It’s not a matter of painting life, it’s a matter of giving life to painting’” (N. Watkins, Bonnard, London, 1994, p. 171).
Bonnard painted Fleurs Rouges within months of settling at Le Bosquet and sent it to Paris soon afterwards for a solo exhibition at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in October 1927. The painting depicts a ceramic vase filled to bursting with bright red flowers, set on the marble mantle in the small, sunny sitting room where he and Marthe took their breakfast and lunch each day. The rectilinear planes of white and gold that comprise the room’s architecture, recalling ancient Roman wall-painting, flatten and compress the space, with depth suggested only to be denied. A smaller bouquet of mixed hues rests on the mantle at the left, and a few branches of delicate mimosa intrude almost imperceptibly at the bottom of the canvas, evoking the haphazard, the uncontrollable, and the evanescent in daily life – “what one sees when one enters a room all of a sudden,” Bonnard noted in his diary (quoted in Bonnard, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 37).
Bonnard used this mantle as a stage or proscenium for his still-life objects in at least a dozen paintings over the course of a decade. The entire fireplace is visible in another canvas from 1927 that features the same low, round-bodied vase as Fleurs Rouges, with its distinctive blue crisscross pattern (Dauberville, no. 1385; Musée des Beaux Arts, Lyon). “I find it very difficult even to introduce a new object into my still-lifes,” Bonnard confessed when asked to consider some pleasing ensemble as a potential subject. “I haven’t lived with that long enough to paint it” (quoted in Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lifes and Interiors, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2009, pp. 8 and 26).
Departing from the Impressionists’ literal-minded naturalism, Bonnard imbued these humble and familiar still-life objects with an unexpected air of enchantment. In Fleurs Rouges, the vivid red of the flowers seems to pulse against the silvery tones of the mantle and the warm Naples yellow of the walls – the colours of light itself, which suffuses and transforms the scene. “Bonnard’s colours came to embody the emerging, meeting, and passing of forms in the transient world, whose components he turned into shapes and planes of saffron red, gold light, and violet shadows,” Dita Amory has written. “His Mediterranean palette and dazzling light added further abstraction to a corpus of paintings that became less obviously descriptive and more metaphoric over time” (op. cit., pp. 22-23).
Fleurs Rouges, 1927