Pierre Bonnard
The Toilet

The Toilet
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
The Toilet
Circa 1908
Oil on canvas
H. 119; W. 79 cm
© ADAGP, Paris - RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR

La Toilette [The Toilet]


The theme of a woman at her toilet, an excuse for painting a nude, was still very common in the 20th century. As Degas had done before him with his pastels, Bonnard chose a sophisticated composition to depict his modern Suzanne surprised in her bath, incarnated by Marthe, his companion and sole model, here shown simultaneously from the back and the front thanks to the reflection in the mirror.

This accessory enabled the painter to play on the framing of the body shown in three-quarter view and cut in half vertically by the mirror. To accentuate the loss of spatial references, he multiplies coloured surfaces: walls covered with wallpaper, doors, and apertures. The viewer's eye is thus caught in the narrow claustrophobic world whose limits are pushed out by the play of reflections and articulated screens in the midst of which stands the naked woman.

The importance of the decor and the presence of truncated or distorted elements, such as the occasional table on which the picture is standing, push the composition towards the decorative abstraction characteristic of this period in Bonnard's career. Living for much of the year in his house at Le Cannet on the Côte d'Azur, he strove to catch the light of the South of France by pearly patches of colour that smudge shapes. Far from photographic realism, this nude, caught in full light, radiates with beauty, sensuality and fullness.

However, retouched by the artist between 1914 and 1921, the painting was executed during a period of doubt and soul-searching: after the Cubist wave in Paris, Bonnard wanted to return to the fundamentals of painting and to concentrate on drawing, the expression of volumes and masses, and the balance of forms without forgetting the emotional dimension of colour.


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