Parallel Meanings

 

(Left) Pierre Bonnard, Marthe nude, seated on the bed with her back turned, 1899-1900. Sepia-toned gelatin silver print, 1 1/2 x 2 in. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Gift of the children of Charles Terrasse, 1992. (Right) Pierre Bonnard, "Eté" (Summer), illustration from Parrallèlement by Verlaine, 1900. Lithograph with rose-sanguine ink, 11 5/8 x 9 5/8 in. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard, features photographs by Pierre Bonnard which served as prompts for book illustrations for Parallèlement, a book of erotic verse by Paul Verlaine published by Ambroise Vollard. As Françoise Heilbrun points out in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, the pink pencil outline imparts the female body with a kind of “feverish sensuality” that is in keeping with the poems. Surprisingly, the French censors at the Imprimerie Nationale agreed to do the printing, mistakenly thinking that Parallèment was a book on geometry! Using the character of Ubu, a tubby symbol of the French state, Bonnard and his friend, the avant-garde playwright Alfred Jarry, mocked the censors’ initial misunderstanding and their belated awareness of the true nature of the project.

Ubu observes a painting of geometric lines, only to be bowled over upon deciphering what he is really looking at. (Left) Cartoon on page 22 of Alfred Jarry, Almanach illustré du Père Ubu, 1901. Lithograph, page 200 x 285 mm. France, private collection. (Right) Cartoon on page 23 of Alfred Jarry, Almanach illustré du Père Ubu, 1901. Lithograph, page 200 x 285 mm. France, private collection.

 

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