Musée d'Orsay: Pierre Bonnard Intimacy

Pierre Bonnard

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Oil on canvas
H. 38; W. 36 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Intimité [Intimacy]

This charming, subtle painting features one of Bonnard's regimental friends, the composer Claude Terrasse (1867-1923), hunched up in a sort of thick greatcoat, wearing a hat with the brim turned up, and smoking a pipe. On the left, deep in the shadow, we can make out the profile of Andrée Bonnard, the painter's sister, and Terrasse's wife. In the foreground, a violet hand, no doubt Bonnard's, cuts across the painting holding a long pipe from which coils of smoke rise up. The inspiration for a framing like this came from Japanese prints, with which the Nabi artists felt they had an affinity.

Here Bonnard presents one of his first intimist scenes. It reveals the freedom of composition that he had managed to achieve since the beginning of his career. The spirals of smoke from the two pipes and Andrée's cigarette, match the astonishing, decorative arabesques on the wallpaper. All these elements have the effect of reducing the space, creating an overall atmosphere that is warm yet somewhat mysterious. The emotional and intellectual ties between the three people are palpable. One cannot but think of their affinity with Stéphane Mallarmé, one of whose poems Our whole soul expressed, seems to have inspired the painter:

"Our whole soul is expressed
When we slowly exhale
Rings of smoke
Abolished into other rings"

Enlarge font size Reduce font size Tip a friend Print