Congenial Spirits: Nudes 100 Years Apart

Duncan Phillips once explained “I bring together congenial spirits among the artists from different parts of the world and from different periods of time.” Phillips’s curatorial philosophy is a hallmark of The Phillips Collection and gives visitors the opportunity to see artworks from different time periods, originating from different countries, created by different artists displayed together under one roof.  Displaying artworks in this way allows visitors to discover new relationships between familiar artworks.

(left) Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Small Bather, 1826. Oil on canvas, 12 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1948.(right) Pierre Bonnard, Nude in an Interior, c. 1935. Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 19 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1952.

(left) Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Small Bather, 1826. Oil on canvas, 12 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1948.(right) Pierre Bonnard, Nude in an Interior, c. 1935. Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 19 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1952.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s The Small Bather (1826) and Pierre Bonnard’s Nude in an Interior (c. 1935) provided such a point of departure for one of my recent tours of special exhibition Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard. As I did visitors on my tour, I invite you to consider the relationship between these two artworks, and ask yourself the following set of questions:

What do you see in each work of art?
What is the subject?
How would you describe the style of each painting?

Next, consider additional question:

What are some similarities and differences in both the style and subject of these two artworks?

And finally, ask yourself:

How might the invention of the camera inspire some of the differences between the two artworks?

I encourage you to share your observations in the comment section below.  You can read some responses I received on my tour after the jump. Continue reading “Congenial Spirits: Nudes 100 Years Apart” »

Pierre Bonnard and Japanese Art

Snapshot is part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, celebrating 100 years of the gift of trees. For readers interested in learning more about the influence of Japan on artists in the exhibition, gallery talks on “Japonisme in France” will be held at 6 and 7 pm this Thursday as part of the Phillips after 5: Journey to Japan event. 

(Left) Woman walking with an umbrella, seen from behind. Reproduction from a Japanese print, published in Le Japon Artistique, March 1891. (Center) Pierre Bonnard, The Little Laundress, 1896. Color lithograph, 11 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. (Right) Attributed to Suzuki Harunobu, 1725-1770. A young woman crossing a snow-covered bridge. Color Woodcut. 1765. The Gale Collection. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

(Left) Woman walking with an umbrella, seen from behind. Reproduction from a Japanese print, published in Le Japon Artistique, March 1891. (Center) Pierre Bonnard, The Little Laundress, 1896. Color lithograph, 11 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. (Right) Attributed to Suzuki Harunobu, 1725-1770. A young woman crossing a snow-covered bridge. Color Woodcut. 1765. The Gale Collection. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Pierre Bonnard was a member of an artistic group called the Nabis, the Hebrew word for prophet. The group, which included Edouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis, were the harbingers of a new way of making art. They broke away from academic tradition to embrace an approach that emphasized decorative unity and a more personal, abstract style. The group members gave each other nicknames; Bonnard’s was “le Nabi très Japonard,” or “the ultra-Japanese Nabi.”

Less than a year after he abandoned law school to pursue a career in art, Bonnard saw a huge exhibition of Japanese prints at the École des Beaux-Arts, where he had been a student. The exhibition featured over a thousand Ukiyo-e woodcuts just when the craze for all things Japanese was at its height in Paris. Bonnard was already looking at Japanese prints at the Goupil Gallery, where Theo van Gogh worked, and bought Japanese prints at a boutique on the Avenue de l’Opera. The prints were available for the equivalent of a few dollars, and Bonnard papered the walls of his studio with them. He purchased works by Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi, and Kunisada.

In Japanese prints, Bonnard found much to inspire him at a key moment in his artistic development: graceful contours, flattened color, asymmetrical compositions, and subjects drawn from everyday life. Bonnard’s The Little Laundress (see above), a color lithograph from 1896, is a prime example of the influence Japanese prints had upon his work. As Colta Ives points out in The Great Wave: The Influence of Japanese Woodcuts on French Prints, the slightly awkward figure with an umbrella, making her way up a street paved with cobblestones, echoes the silhouette of an Ukiyo-e print published in 1891 in Le Japon Artistique (see above), a periodical that Bonnard subscribed to. It also resembles a print by Suzuki Harunobu of a young woman crossing a snow covered bridge (see above). Bonnard found in Japanese art qualities that liberated him from Western conventions of color, form, and composition, creating uniquely intimate, spontaneous works that were aligned with his personal temperament.

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.