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.


William Merritt Chase: Hide and Seek

William Merritt Chase, Hide and Seek, 1888. Oil on canvas, 27 5/8 x 35 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1923.

Hide and Seek is one of my favorite paintings in The Phillips Collection. Notable for its restraint, it is a marvel of visual economy. Hide and Seek was not a typical work for Chase, who was known for his tendency to paint cluttered interiors. His studio was filled with curios from all corners of the world, including a white Russian wolfhound, two macaws, and a cockatoo. There are only four objects in Hide and Seek, and Chase makes each one count Continue reading “William Merritt Chase: Hide and Seek” »

Degas and Pastels: Part II

Read part one in my series on Degas and pastels.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe, 1885. Pastel on paper, 19 x 24 in. Collection of The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, Tennessee; Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Hugo N. Dixon, 1975.6.

Degas’s use of fixative was the key to the appearance of his many-layered pastel works. Fixative makes it possible for pastel to adhere to paper without smearing or smudging and enables the artist to continue to work over pastel that has already been applied. Degas searched for a fixative that would not alter the matte, velvety quality of his pastels. Degas used a secret formula for fixative given to him by artist Luigi Chialiva that has not been duplicated today. By using fixative to prevent blending and smudging, Degas created a roughened surface to which each layer of pastel adhered easily. The fixative applied at different layers of the composition enabled Degas to create a work using multiple layers of pastel, which achieved an astonishing complexity of superimposed color. Continue reading “Degas and Pastels: Part II” »